Iritis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment Options
Iritis is when the eye’s iris (the colored portion of the eye) becomes inflamed. The eye’s uvea contains the iris and makes up the middle portion of the eye. Uveitis is when any part of the uvea is inflamed or swollen.
Inflammation and swelling of the iris can be caused by a variety of reasons, including infections, trauma, and other eye disorders.
There are several treatments available to ease the symptoms of iritis, and recovery times vary depending on the severity of the condition. Most cases of iritis are typically not serious, but it can lead to glaucoma or vision loss if left untreated.
Key Facts About Iritis
- There are two types of iritis: acute and chronic. Acute iritis develops very quickly and does not last a long time, while chronic iritis develops gradually and can last for months.
- The most common cause of iritis is from sustaining an injury to the eye, which is known as traumatic iritis.
- Iritis is also known as anterior uveitis. It is the most common type of uveitis.
- Iritis can cause eye pain, sensitivity to light, headaches, and decreased vision.
What Causes Iritis?
There are several different causes of iritis.
- Eye trauma: Any type of trauma to and around the eye can cause iritis, including blunt force trauma, corneal abrasions, and burns.
- Infections: Ocular infections from viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi can all contribute to iritis.
- Other health issues: Many diseases and disorders cause mild to severe iritis. These include lymphoma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
- Genetics: Approximately 50 percent of people with iritis have a gene known as the HLA-B27 gene, which increases the risk of developing the condition.
- Medications: Although rare, certain medications have been linked to iritis, including widely prescribed antibiotics such as oral fluoroquinolones.
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of iritis can develop in just one or both eyes. These symptoms include the following:
- Discomfort or achiness
- Sensitivity to light
- Excessive tearing
- Obstructed vision
A person with iritis can experience a combination of symptoms that range in severity. If left untreated, vision loss can also be attributed to iritis.
How Is Iritis Diagnosed?
If a person exhibits symptoms of iritis, a complete eye exam conducted by a medical professional can properly diagnose the condition. This consists of the following:
- An external exam: A penlight is used to examine the outward appearance of the pupils. Redness is observed along with signs for other underlying conditions.
- A visual acuity test: A standard Snellen eye chart is used to measure how well the person can see at various distances.
- A slit-lamp exam: Typically done after the dilation of the pupils, a slit-lamp (microscope with a bright light) test is used to look inside of the eye for more signs of redness and irritation.
Is Iritis Dangerous?
Iritis can be dangerous, especially if the condition is the result of a more serious disease or injury. Some cases of recurrent iritis can result in glaucoma. Other cases of iritis can cause calcium deposits on the cornea, which can degrade the cornea and lead to impaired vision.
Less dangerous cases of iritis may have symptoms that typically go away on their own or with minimal treatment.
Who Is at Risk of Developing Iritis?
There are several risk factors for developing iritis.
Genetic Alteration of the HLA-B27 Gene
Around half of iritis patients have a gene known as the HLA-B27 gene, which increases the risk of developing the condition because of its effects on the immune system.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Both syphilis and HIV/AIDS are linked to the development of iritis. Chlamydia can also spread to the eye and cause iritis symptoms.
Weak Immune System
Several autoimmune related diseases that compromise the immune system are linked to developing iritis, including a form of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis and sarcoidosis, a rare condition that leaves patches of small tissue on the body’s organs.
Other factors, such as environmental dangers or smoking cigarettes, can also increase the chances of developing iritis.
Treatment Options for Iritis
There are a variety of treatment options that may be appropriate, depending on the severity of the iritis. Mild cases can be treated at home, and more severe cases require treatment from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Steroid Eye Drops
Steroid eye drops are able to provide fast relief and prevent permanent damage to the eye. They can be applied daily, but they should not be taken for long amounts of time because there is a risk of developing glaucoma.
Dilating Eye Drops
Dilating eye drops relieve symptoms of iritis by widening the pupil of the eye. This reduces pain and protects the pupil from further complications.
Steroid injections can be used in severe cases of iritis. Steroid injections help to relieve iritis symptoms and also prevent permanent damage. The effects of steroid injections last longer than steroid eye drops, but they both equally increase the risk of developing glaucoma later on in life.
Antibiotic eye drops can be used to treat iritis that is caused by bacterial infections. The antibiotics help to kill the bacteria and stop it from spreading. Antibiotic ointments can also be used to relieve symptoms.
A warm compress can be easily administered at home by taking a clean washcloth, getting it wet with warm water, and applying the cloth over the eyes. Applying a warm compress hydrates and soothes eyes affected by iritis while also slowing down tear evaporation.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as Tylenol and Advil, can help reduce pain caused by iritis. OTC eye drops can also relieve symptoms by lubricating the eyes and helping them to retain moisture.
Does iritis go away?
Some cases of iritis go away on their own, while others require treatments and medications. Iritis caused by bacterial and viral infections sometimes take longer to go away.
What’s the best treatment for iritis?
The best treatment for iritis depends on the type and severity of the condition, but steroid eye drops are most commonly used to treat the condition.
Can iritis be caused by stress?
Studies have shown that stress is linked to the development of iritis. Extreme stress can also make iritis symptoms worse. In addition to medical treatments, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes to reduce stress, such as regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and meditation or deep breathing techniques.
How long does iritis last?
Iritis can last anywhere from one week to up to three months, depending on the type and severity of the condition.
Can iritis be misdiagnosed?
Iritis can be misdiagnosed. When iritis is misdiagnosed, the most common misdiagnoses are conjunctivitis, glaucoma, or regular eye irritation.
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Recent Developments in HLA B27 Anterior Uveitis. (January 2021). Frontiers in Immunology.
Steroid-induced Glaucoma: An Avoidable Irreversible Blindness. (August 2017). Journal of Current Glaucoma Practice.
Last Updated February 28, 2023
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