Iritis: Overview

Iritis is a form of anterior uveitis – an inflammatory disorder of the colored part of the eye (iris).

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Iritis is sometimes confused with conjunctivitis, a much less serious disorder of the clear outer lining of the eye.

Causes and Development

In the majority of cases there is no specific cause.

Signs and Symptoms

Generally, only one eye is affected and the pupil on that side is sometimes smaller.  Typically, the eye is not sticky, crusty or producing a discharge.

The symptoms of iritis usually appear suddenly and develop rapidly over a few hours or days.  Iritis commonly causes pain, tearing, light sensitivity, and blurred vision.  A red eye often occurs as a result of iritis.  Some patients may experience floaters, which are small specks or dots moving in the field of vision.  In addition, the pupil may become smaller in the eye affected by iritis.

Diagnosis and Tests

Occasionally, iritis is just one symptom of a disease that affects other organ systems.  These are called connective tissue diseases and include: rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, lupus, scleroderma, Behcet's disease, ankylosing spondylitis, Reiter's disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and B-27 disease.  Sometimes it is necessary to establish whether iritis/uveitis is a manifestation of one of these or some other underlying systemic disease.  Your eye care provider may ask a detailed medical history, and may order a battery of tests including several possible blood tests, a chest X-ray, X-rays of the lower back, and a skin test for tuberculosis.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment of iritis is often directed at finding and removing the cause of the inflammation.  In addition, eye drops and ointments are used to relieve pain, quiet the inflammation, dilate the pupil, and reduce any scarring which may occur.  If diagnosed in the early stages, iritis can usually be controlled with the use of eye drops before vision loss occurs.  Both steroids and antibiotics may be used.  The application of hot packs may also provide relief from the symptoms of iritis.  In severe cases, oral medications and injections may be necessary to treat the condition.

A case of iritis usually lasts 6 to 8 weeks.  During this time, the patient must be observed carefully to monitor potential side-effects from medications and any complications which may occur.  Cataracts, glaucoma, corneal changes, and secondary inflammation of the retina may occur as a result of iritis and the medications used to treat the disorder.

The secrets to the successful treatment of iritis is early detection and proper choice of medicines.  Persistent cases may require more intensive treatment.  Successful treatment of iritis depends on careful and consistent compliance by the patient.

Prognosis; Seek medical attention if...

Fortunately, it rarely causes blindness but it can affect vision while the inflammation is present.  Iritis is frequently a recurrent problem; after a few episodes patients become very astute at early diagnosis.

Iritis is a potentially serious condition requiring medical attention by an ophthalmologist.

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Iritis:

Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular

Pain in both eyes or pain in one eye

Although it is more common for just one eye to be affected during an attack of iritis, both eyes may be affected at the same time.  There are several symptoms of iritis that are fairly specific to it, one being 'contralateral photosensitivity'.  This means that the eye with iritis will feel pain even if light is shined into the OTHER eye only.

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Risk factors for Iritis:


Ankylosing Spondylitis

The eye is the most common organ affected by ankylosing spondylitisIritis occurs from time to time in one-fourth of those with the condition.

Recommendations for Iritis:


Visiting An Eye Doctor

Since iritis is an inflammation inside the eye, the condition is potentially sight-threatening.  Proper diagnosis and prompt treatment of iritis are essential.  To minimize any loss of vision and avoid blindness, the patient should have a complete eye examination as soon as symptoms occur.  A slit lamp, which illuminates and magnifies the structures of the eye, is commonly used to detect any signs of inflammation.

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