The uvea is the pigmented vascular layer of the eye and consists of the iris, ciliary body and choroid. Most of the intraocular blood vessels that feed the eye are located there. Inflammation of any section of the uvea is called uveitis. This swelling can cause pain and/or loss of vision, since it can affect many very important parts of the eye including the retina, cornea and sclera.
A number of symptoms may occur with uveitis including pain, light sensitivity, redness of the eye, blurred vision, and floaters.
In most cases, the cause of uveitis is unknown (idiopathic); however, sometimes it may result from a fungal, parasitic, viral or bacterial infection. Other sources may be eye trauma or surgery. Diseases such as lupus or arthritis may affect the uvea as well.
The type of uveitis is determined by the area affected. Inflammation in the iris is called iritis. Cyclitis results from swelling of the ciliary body, and choroiditis affects the back vascular layer of the eye.
Iritis develops quickly and may last 6-8 weeks. Cyclitis can also occur quickly and may last for several months affecting the muscle that focuses the lens. Choroiditis progresses more slowly, but can last the longest.
To properly diagnose and treat uveitis, a thorough medical history should take place to try to determine a cause. An eye doctor will then perform a normal examination using an ophthalmoscope on dilated eyes. This testing should take place as soon as any symptoms occur. Left untreated, the inflammation can permanently affect vision and can lead to blindness. If the physician suspects uveitis, additional testing may be requested, such as blood tests, skin tests and X-rays. In some rare instances, biopsies or taking a fluid sample from the inner eye may be necessary to assist in diagnosis.
Treatment should take place as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage to the eye. Therapy may include injections, eye drops, oral or IV medication to reduce pain and inflammation. Management of uveitis depends on the type, cause and severity of the disease. In extreme cases, chemotherapy may be needed to treat the condition.