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Uveitis +yU-vE-!I-tus

by Emmett T. Cunningham, Jr., MD, PhD, MPH

Uveitis is inflammation anywhere in the pigmented inside lining of the eye, known as the uvea or uveal tract.

  • The uvea may become inflamed because of infection, injury, a bodywide autoimmune disorder (which causes the body to attack its own tissues), or for unknown reasons.

  • Symptoms may include eye ache, eye redness, floaters, loss of vision, or a combination.

  • Treatment typically includes corticosteroids (as eye drops, taken by mouth, or injected into the eye) and drops that dilate and relax the pupil in the affected eye.

The uveal tract consists of three structures:

  • The iris

  • The ciliary body

  • The choroid

The iris, the colored ring around the black pupil, opens and closes to let more or less light into the eye, just like the shutter in a camera.

The ciliary body is the set of muscles that, by contracting, allows the lens to become thicker so the eye can focus on nearby objects. By relaxing, the ciliary body allows the lens to become thinner so the eye can focus on distant objects. This process is called accommodation.

The choroid, which lines part of the back part of the eyeball, extends from the edge of the ciliary muscles to the optic nerve at the back of the eye. The choroid lies between the retina on the inside and the sclera on the outside. The choroid contains both pigmented cells and blood vessels that nourish the inside parts of the eye, particularly the retina.

A View of the Uvea

Part or all of the uveal tract may become inflamed. Inflammation limited to part of the uvea is named according to its location:

  • Anterior uveitis is inflammation in the front of the uveal tract, including the iris.

  • Intermediate uveitis is inflammation in the middle of the uveal tract, and typically also involves the jellylike substance that fills the eyeball (called the vitreous humor).

  • Posterior uveitis is inflammation in the back of the uveal tract and can involve the retina and choroid.

  • Panuveitis is inflammation that affects the entire uveal tract.

Sometimes uveitis is referred to by the name of the specific part that is inflamed. For example, iritis is inflammation of the iris, choroiditis is inflammation of the choroid, and chorioretinitis is inflammation that involves both the choroid and the overlying retina. Inflammation of the uvea is limited to one eye in many people with uveitis but may involve both eyes.

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