Definition and Overview
Uveitis refers to the inflammation of the uvea of the eyes, which is composed of the choroid, ciliary body, and the iris. This condition can potentially damage the tissues, nerves, and blood vessels that supply blood and nourishment throughout the eyes resulting in blindness in severe cases. In the United States, at least 300,000 is at risk of developing the condition, of which 10% may eventually go blind, making the disease one of the leading causes of blindness.
Although there’s no definite step that can be undertaken to completely prevent the development of the disease, a consultation with an ophthalmologist will ensure that the patient will be promptly treated and the risk of recurrence is controlled as much as possible.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
A uveitis consultation is recommended for:
People diagnosed with an autoimmune disease – Some experts suggest that uveitis is an autoimmune disease, a condition in which the body’s own white blood cells attack tissues and organs the same way it does to potential threats such as viruses and bacteria. Although there are already many studies conducted on autoimmune diseases, their actual causes are yet to be determined. This means that it’s still unclear how uveitis becomes an autoimmune disease. However, those who are already diagnosed with an autoimmune disease may be at a higher risk of developing uveitis.
Younger people – One of the risk factors associated with uveitis is age. Although it can happen to anyone at any age, it is more common among young adults.
Injury to the eye – People who have experienced injury to the eye are also considered as high-risk groups. It’s unclear, though, how this increases the risk.
Those diagnosed with a virus – Certain viruses can cause the inflammatory disease including herpes simplex and the virus that triggers mumps or shingles.
People who smoke – More studies show that there’s a close relationship between smoking and uveitis. According to these studies, smoking tends to activate inflammation in the blood vessels.
Uveitis consultation can:
- Ensure that the disease is treated and managed on time
- Detect the inflammation before it gets worse and before parts of the eyes begin to degenerate
- Reduce the risk of complications that are associated with uveitis such as glaucoma or the irreparable damage of the nerves of the eyes. It is also linked to retinal detachment, cataracts, and clouding of both the retina and cornea, which can significantly affect the central and peripheral vision of the eyes
- Monitor the progress of both the disease and treatment
- Decrease or prevent the potential side effects of the treatment
How Does the Procedure Work?
Uveitis can develop suddenly and in such cases, immediate treatment is required. Most of the cases, however, are classified as chronic, which means that the disease develops over a period of years (typically within three years) before the symptoms begin to manifest.
In a uveitis consultation, the patient schedules an appointment with an ophthalmologist. During the actual meeting, the doctor will:
- Ask a series of questions about the main problem of the patient
- Get more information about the patient's medical and family history, especially since some studies suggest that uveitis can also be genetic
- Take note of the common symptoms linked to uveitis, which include pain in the eye, presence of floaters in the cornea, sensitivity to light, eye redness, blurred vision, and drooping of the eyelid
- Perform different exams to ascertain the health of the eye such as lab tests and x-rays
- Monitor the effects of the treatment – So far, steroids are the only approved treatment option for people with uveitis, which is available as a prescribed tablet or eye drops. Steroids are called immunosuppressants as they reduce the activity of the immune system.
Possible Risks and Complications
Despite the consultation, it’s still possible that the disease will come back again (recurrence). On the upside, a consultation can detect it while it’s still in the early stages and thus can be immediately treated. This way, the possible damage of the disease will be minimal.
It’s also not easy to diagnose the disease based on the symptom alone as it can mimic other eye problems such as conjunctivitis, a condition that affects the mucus membrane located in front of the eyes. Just like uveitis, conjunctivitis is also caused by a virus and can also lead to pain in the eyes, redness, and tearing.
Also, the required regular follow-ups to effectively monitor the progression of the condition can be a source of a problem for patients as it can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. Because the consultation has to be made several times throughout the lifespan of the disease, it is essential that patients deals with doctors they find comfortable to talk to. This way, they will be more encouraged to discuss their symptoms and observations, as well as follow the directions on treatment.
Goldstein DA, Patel S, Tessler HH. Classification, symptoms, and signs of uveitis. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012:vol 4, chap 32.
Nair UK, Cunningham ET Jr. Uveitis: Diagnostic approach and ancillary analysis. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012:vol 4, chap 37.