Many things can irritate your eyes, and all of us will experience the symptoms of pink-eye in our lifetimes. While conjunctivitis or infections are more common causes, a more unusual possibility is that of uveitis. What exactly is this condition? Top ophthalmologist Ms Theresa Richardson explains all.
What is uveitis?
Uveitis is an unusual condition where you get inflammation within your eye, much in the same way other parts of the body like the joints can become inflamed. It can either be the front of the eye, the iris, or the back of the eye, in which case we call it posterior uveitis. Quite often, you will have been to see your GP, who will have given you some antibiotics because they think you have an infection. With an infection, you would get pus coming from the eye, whereas with uveitis, you don't have any pus and your eye will become red.
What are the causes of uveitis?
In most cases, (around 80%), there is no obvious cause (we call this idiopathic). In only 20% do we have some systemic condition within your body as a cause. For example, it could be the skin, it could be the lungs, it could be the joints, or it could even be the bowel or a urinary tract. It could even be a result of past infections from a long, long time ago, such as one that you had in your childhood. One in particular, which you may have heard about, is called Lyme disease, which comes from tick bites.
Uveitis is not very common and when we see you we often ask about previous conditions you have had or we ask about joint pains or skin pains or skin problems. For example, there's a condition called sarcoidosis and another condition called ankylosing spondylitis, which are associated commonly with uveitis.
What are the signs and symptoms of uveitis?
The first sign of uveitis is that when you look in the mirror, you'll see your eyes are slightly pink. The way the pink is distributed is different from when you have conjunctivitis. When you have uveitis, the pinkness of your eye is around the iris. We call this circumcorneal (around the cornea). When you look very carefully in the mirror, you may notice that your pupil is a slightly strange shape. This is because the iris sticks to the lens.
Another symptom is that light starts to bother you. You may not be able to, for example, to look up at the sun or bright lights. Your vision will be blurred, which is unusual for conjunctivitis.
With conjunctivitis, you have pus coming from the eye and the eyelids are stuck together, whereas with uveitis, you do not have those symptoms.
Uveitis, in general, can start with one eye, but it can present in both eyes, and one eye may be affected more than the other. If you get a recurrent attack, it may be first with the right eye and then later in the year it can be the left eye. When you get it for the first time, you may ignore it as it may be mild and it may just get better by itself. It certainly will not get better, however, with the antibiotic drops your GP gives you.