What is iritis?
Iritis (pronounced, “eye-RYE-tis”) is a general term used to describe inflammation in the front of the eye. Specifically, it means inflammation of the iris. The iris is the name given to the layer of tissue in the eye that gives it a brown or blue color and serves to protect the eye from excessive light.
What causes iritis?
Iritis may be caused by systemic inflammatory disease, trauma, infection, or sometimes for unknown reasons. Infection by a virus, bacteria, fungus, or other parasite rarely causes iritis. Infections may be limited to the eye or may involve other organs as well. More commonly, iritis is caused by inflammation without infection. For example, sarcoidosis, arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease may cause iritis. The most common type of arthritis that causes iritis is ankylosing spondylitis, a condition that causes low back stiffness in the morning. Iritis also commonly follows an injury to the eye. In some cases, no underlying cause of iritis can be found.
What are the symptoms of iritis?
The eye may be painful, red, tearing, and light sensitive. Tiny floating spots which move or “float” may be seen. Symptoms may be mild, or they may be severe and disabling. Iritis may cause glaucoma, cataract, or scarring of the iris producing a distorted central black pupil. Blurred vision is common, and blindness may occur if iritis is not treated.
How is iritis managed?
When the doctor diagnoses iritis, laboratory tests may be ordered to help determine its cause. Occasionally, a surgical biopsy is needed. If infection is found, antibiotics are prescribed. To limit the damage from inflammation, iritis is treated with anti-inflammatory medication in the form of steroid eye drops, injections, or prednisone pills. The eye drops must be used very frequently to break an acute attack of iritis. Aggressive treatment is recommended to prevent complications and permanent injury to the eye. Surgery may be required to treat complications of iritis such as glaucoma and cataract. Iritis is a serious eye problem and may result in loss of vision or blindness. However, by seeing your eye doctor promptly and taking the medications exactly as recommended, permanent damage from iritis can be minimized. In some cases, iritis can return in either eye at a future date. Therefore, if you become aware of the return of symptoms of iritis in the future, contact your doctor without delay.
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