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Iritis: Everything You Need to Know About This Common Cause of Eye Pain

CEO Khai Intela
Image source: Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision via Getty Images Pain in the eye can be alarming and cause anxiety. Iritis, or anterior uveitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation in the front part of the eye....

A woman is at an eye exam with her doctor. They’re off to the right of the frame, and the left of the frame is the eye exam equipment. Image source: Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision via Getty Images

Pain in the eye can be alarming and cause anxiety. Iritis, or anterior uveitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation in the front part of the eye. It is a common cause of eye pain and can have serious consequences, including blindness. However, with the right treatment, the effects of iritis can be managed. So, if you experience persistent symptoms, it's important to visit an eye doctor without delay.

What Causes Iritis?

Iritis can have various causes, including underlying medical conditions and issues within the eye itself. Some common medical conditions associated with iritis include infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic), autoimmune diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and sarcoidosis), cancer (such as lymphoma), trauma to the eye, and certain medications. Stress can also act as a trigger for an episode of iritis. Any factor affecting the structures in the front of the eye, such as the iris and cornea, can lead to iritis. While the immune response in the eye is usually beneficial for healing, excessive or prolonged inflammation can result in permanent vision loss due to scarring.

In some cases, the cause of iritis remains unknown, and it is referred to as idiopathic. This is particularly true when only one eye is affected, and there are no apparent triggers. Approximately 30% of iritis cases fall into this category.

What Are the Symptoms of Iritis?

Symptoms of iritis can range from mild to severe. Individuals with iritis often experience extreme sensitivity to light, seeking out darker environments. Additional symptoms may include redness, tearing, pain, and blurry vision.

What Other Eye Issues Can Be Confused With Iritis?

In the early stages, when symptoms are mild, iritis can be mistaken for other conditions. Pink eye (conjunctivitis) may present with similar symptoms, including mild tearing and a red eye. However, conjunctivitis is often accompanied by eye crusting in the morning and mucus-like discharge throughout the day. Dry eyes can also cause tearing, but these symptoms typically improve with the use of artificial tears. General eye irritation from high winds or rubbing the eyes can also lead to temporary tearing, redness, and slightly blurry vision. It is important not to ignore the early signs of iritis, as a delayed diagnosis can pose a risk to your vision.

How Is Iritis Diagnosed?

To diagnose iritis, it is necessary to consult with an eye care specialist who will conduct a comprehensive examination. This includes taking a detailed medical history and using a slit lamp, a specialized microscope, to examine the eye. Inflammation can be detected by shining a thin beam of light between the iris and cornea. The eye exam will also include a vision test, eye pressure check, and dilation to examine the back of the eye.

Based on these results, further testing may be required if an underlying cause is suspected. This can include blood work to check for systemic infections or immune disorders, as well as imaging such as a CT or MRI. In some cases, a culture of the eyelid tissues or cornea, or a sample of the fluid inside the eye, may be needed for testing.

Can You Have Iritis in Both Eyes?

Iritis can affect one eye or both eyes. If it presents as a mild case with no obvious cause in one eye, treatment may be initiated without additional testing. However, if it recurs in the same eye or affects both eyes, it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Further testing, such as blood work or imaging, may be necessary to determine the cause.

Is Iritis Serious?

If left untreated, iritis can lead to vision loss or blindness due to scarring inside the eye. It can also increase the risk of glaucoma. Therefore, it is crucial to schedule an eye exam promptly if you experience symptoms that last for more than a few days. Additional serious complications of iritis include cataracts, retinal inflammation, inflammation of the vitreous, swelling in the back of the eye (macular edema), and calcium deposits on the cornea. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing these complications.

How Is Iritis Treated?

The treatment approach for iritis depends on the underlying cause. Steroids and dilating eye drops are commonly prescribed to prevent scarring within the eye, but they should only be used under the supervision of an eye care provider. In cases of infection, antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, or antiparasitic medications may be prescribed in the form of topical eye drops or oral medications. If iritis becomes chronic, long-term steroid or anti-inflammatory medications may be required.

Does Iritis Go Away on Its Own?

In some cases, iritis may resolve on its own, particularly after trauma to the eye or in cases where no underlying cause is found. However, it is important to note that permanent scarring can occur with any instance of iritis. Therefore, seeking treatment is recommended if you experience symptoms of iritis.

Remember, your eyes are precious, and any changes or discomfort should be taken seriously. Don't hesitate to consult an eye care professional to ensure the health and well-being of your eyes.

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