Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye between the
sclera (white outer coat of the eye) and the retina (the back of the eye). The
uvea contains many of the blood vessels that nourish the eye. Inflammation of
this area, therefore, can affect the cornea, the retina, the sclera, and other
important parts of the eye. Uveitis occurs in acute and chronic forms, and
affects men and women equally. It can happen at any age, but occurs primarily
between the ages of 20 and 50, and most commonly in one's 20s.
|Signs and Symptoms|
Uveitis is often accompanied by the following signs and
- Painful eye(s)
- Redness of the conjunctiva, the membrane covering the surface of the
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred or decreased vision
- Floaters—experienced as spots in front of
your eyes; they represent the movement of protein deposits that accumulate with
age on the vitreous body (a transparent substance that fills the area of the eye
between the lens and the retina)
|What Causes It?|
Although the exact cause of uveitis is often unknown, it may result from
trauma to the eye, as in the case of chemical exposure. In addition, uveitis may
be caused by a viral infection (for example, cytomegalovirus, as seen in
patients with AIDS), a fungal infection (such as histoplasmosis), or an
infection caused by a parasite (such as toxoplasmosis; a newborn may develop
uveitis if the mother was exposed to toxoplasmosis during pregnancy). Uveitis is
also associated with underlying immune-related disorders, including Reiter's
syndrome, multiple sclerosis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease,
and sarcoidosis. Certain diseases—including leukemia,
lymphoma, and malignant melanoma—may have symptoms that
resemble uveitis. Some medications, such as rifabutin, cidofovir, pamidronic
acid, and sulfonamides, may cause uveitis. In many cases, an underlying cause is
|Who's Most At Risk?|
People with the following conditions or characteristics are at risk for
- History of an autoimmune disease such as ankylosing spondilitis and
others mentioned in the section, What Causes It?
- Infections such as syphilis, tuberculosis, cytomegalovirus, Lyme
disease, and others mentioned in the section, What Causes It?
- Other eye diseases
- Location in geographic areas that are prone to certain organisms such
as histoplasmosis and Lyme disease
- In the case of toxoplasmosis, pigs and mice carry the parasite and can
transmit to humans. Cat owners are at increased risk of toxoplasmosis because
the litter contains spores of the parasite; pregnant women should not change cat
- Those taking certain medications, such as those mentioned in the
section, What Causes It?
|What to Expect at Your Provider's Office|
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with uveitis, you should see your
healthcare provider. He or she will do a complete physical examination and take
your history, checking for signs of underlying disease such as joint problems,
mouth sores, rash, and nail pitting. In addition, he or she will perform an eye
examination and may order laboratory tests and imaging.
Your healthcare provider can screen for uveitis during a regular eye exam.
Treatment of any of the underlying diseases discussed above may help prevent the
onset of uveitis. Avoiding drugs associated with uveitis, such as rifabutin, may
also help prevent this condition.
Prompt treatment is necessary to preserve your eyesight. Warm compresses may
help relieve symptoms. Sunglasses can protect your eyes if they are sensitive to
Your provider may prescribe the following medications:
- Corticosteroids to reduce swelling and pain
- Cycloplegics (such as cyclopentolate and homatropine) to reduce
- Antimicrobials to treat infection
- Anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling
- Medications to suppress the immune system
|Surgical and Other Procedures|
Surgery may be required to repair any damage to the eyes such as cataracts,
glaucoma, or a detached retina, each of which is a potential complication from
|Complementary and Alternative Therapies|
CAM therapies may help reduce the severity of diseases that can lead to
uveitis. Specifically, herbs and nutrients may reduce the effects of free
radicals (unstable molecules that may play a role in inflammation and cell
damage). In this way, these substances may prevent or slow the advance of
uveitis when used together with conventional medical care.
Flavonoids are substances found in fruits and
vegetables—particularly red grapes, blueberries,
cherries, and onions—that may help prevent damage from
free radicals. In our bodies, a high concentration of flavonoids is found in the
eyes, and the flavonoids from berries (particularly blueberries and bilberries)
tend to collect in the eye. In an animal study, quercetin, a flavonoid found in
foods and available as a supplement, reduced inflammation and bleeding in the
eyes of rats. Doses of quercetin supplements from 200 to 400 mg may be taken
three times a day with meals. Quercetin is often used with bromelain to enhance
Carotenoids are other nutritional substances that may also protect against
damage from free radicals, especially in the eye. Orange, yellow, and dark green
vegetables such as spinach, carrots, and pumpkins are high in carotenoids.
Supplement forms include mixed natural carotenoids (50,000 IU per day) and the
carotenoid lutein (5 mg per day). Lutein is thought to be especially helpful for
In the case of uveitis, foods that promote inflammation should be eliminated
from the diet. These include saturated fats, fried foods, dairy products, and
refined foods. Foods that may help fight inflammation, such as flaxseed and
fatty fish, generally contain omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Other nutrients that may be useful in the treatment of uveitis include the
antioxidant vitamins C and E. In at least one well-designed scientific study
that evaluated whether these nutrients could be of benefit in cases of uveitis,
the results suggest that taking vitamin C (1000 mg per day) and vitamin E (200
IU per day) protects the light receptors in the eyes from free radicals, thus
helping to preserve visual clarity. Also, vitamin E may protect against swelling
in the macula, the light-sensitive layer of the eye, that could lead to a loss
of clear vision in people with uveitis.
As noted above in the Nutrition section, flavonoids found in foods may be
helpful in the treatment of uveitis. Similarly, herbs high in flavonoids, such
as ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), may
also be useful. Herbalists have used these herbs to treat eye diseases for a
long time. However, it is not yet known whether ginkgo and bilberry are of value
in the treatment of uveitis specifically.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is another herb that may reduce inflammation.
Curcumin, the main active substance in turmeric, reportedly has
anti-inflammatory properties. Although it is not yet clear whether turmeric may
be useful in the treatment of uveitis, results from a small 3-year study in
patients with uveitis suggest that curcumin (375 mg taken orally three times
daily) worked as well as corticosteroid medications but without the side
effects. In addition, the rates of recurrence as well as complications from
uveitis were similar to the rates of patients taking corticosteroid medications.
No patients complained of side effects from the curcumin.
Currently, no known scientific literature supports the use of homeopathy for
uveitis; however, an experienced homeopath would consider your individual case
and may recommend treatments to help relieve your specific symptoms.
Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in the treatment of other eye
diseases, but it has not yet been fully studied for treatment of uveitis.
Prognosis is good with early diagnosis and treatment. Treatment may be
short-term or long-term, depending on the cause. The success of treatment
depends on any underlying condition you may have. Possible complications include
glaucoma, cataracts, vision loss, and detached retina.
Your healthcare provider may use a slit lamp to examine structures within the
eye one layer at a time. Your provider will also measure the pressure within
your eye every 1 to 7 days during the acute phase. A follow-up appointment every
1 to 6 months is generally recommended; your healthcare provider will instruct
you on the exact frequency of visits.
Alexander KL, Dul MW, Lalle PA, Magnus DE, Onofrey B. Optometric Clinical
Practice Guideline: Care of the Patient with Anterior Uveitis. 2nd ed.
American Optometric Association; 1997. Accessed at
Anterior Uveitis.doc on February 8, 2000.
Berkow R, Fletcher AJ, Beers MH, eds. The Merck Manual. Rahway, NJ:
Merck & Co.; 1992:2380-2382.
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded
Commission E Monographs. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications;
Dunn JP, Nozik RA. Uveitis: role of the physician in treating systemic
causes. Geriatrics. 1994;49(8):27-32.
Fraunfelder FW, Rosenbaum JT. Drug-induced uveitis: incidence, prevention,
and treatment. Drug Saf. 1997;17(3):197-207.
Gordon K III. Iritis and uveitis. In: Adler J, Brenner B, Dronen S, et al.
Emergency Medicine: An On-line Medical Reference. Accessed at
on August 17, 2000.
Lal B, Kapoor AK, Asthana OP, et al. Efficacy of curcumin in the management
of chronic anterior uveitis. Phytother Res. 1999;13(4):318-322.
No author listed. Drug-induced uveitis can usually be easily managed.
Drugs Ther Perspect. 1998;11(10):11-14.
Nussenblatt RB, Fortin E, Schiffman R, et al. Treatment of noninfectious
intermediate and posterior uveitis with the humanized anti-Tac mAb: a phase I/II
clinical trial. Proc Natl Acad Sci. USA 1999;96(13):7462-7466.
Romero J, Marak GE Jr, Rao NA. Pharmacologic modulation of acute ocular
inflammation with quercetin. Ophthalmic Res. 1989;21(2):112-117.
Sowka JW, Gurwood AS, Kabat AG. Anterior Uveitis. In: Handbook of Ocular
Disease Management. Review of Optometry Online. Accessed at
on February 8, 2000.
Ullman D. The Consumer's Guide to Homeopathy. New York, NY:
van Rooij J, Schwartzenberg SG, Mulder PG, Baarsma SG. Oral vitamins C and E
as additional treatment in patients with acute anterior uveitis: a randomised
double masked study in 145 patients. Br J Ophthalmol.
|Review Date: October 2000|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Shiva Barton, ND, Wellspace,
Cambridge, MA; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine,
Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor
Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Dahlia Hirsch, MD, Center for Holistic
Healing, BelAir, MD; Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP, George Washington University,
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse
of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed