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What is iritis?

Iritis is a condition that most patients have never heard of when they first learn about their diagnosis from their eye doctor. Everyone has heard of cataract, and glaucoma, but iritis or anterior uveitis is a condition that can also cause those conditions. It can also be frequently confused with "pink eye" because many of the signs and symptoms are similar. The eye is made up of several different layers. On the outside there is the corneal epithelium and conjunctiva. This is like the "skin" of the eye and it is on the outside. Most conditions that affect this layer are from infection or trauma because this layer is constantly exposed to the outside world. The deeper tissue is then the sclera (the white of the eye) and the cornea (the clear window that we see through). The next layer of tissue is the uvea and the iris. The iris is the colored part of the eye that gives us brown, blue and every other eye color. The other uveal tissue is similar, but we cannot see it because it is blocked by the sclera or other tissue. Iritis is a type of inflammation that mostly affects the iris and the areas immediately surrounding the iris. It can be infectious, but it is also often an autoimmune reaction. An autoimmune reaction is when your body attacks its own tissues. It will present with light sensitivity, aching of the eye, a red or pink eye, and blurred vision. All of these symptoms do not have to be present, but many times they are. There is not usually much of a discharge, but the eye can water. If the inflammation is left alone, it can result in glaucoma, cataract or even blindness and it must be addressed. It can be caused by viruses such as the virus that causes cold sores, and often there is no underlying cause that is found. Other conditions such as syphilis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease (like ulcerative colitis), lyme disease, and tuberculosis can sometimes be associated. A certain type of marker in the immune system called HLA B27 can also be a cause for an autoimmune reaction. Iritis can be a condition that goes away after one episode, it can come back, or it can never completely go away. Your ophthalmologist can manage it with steroid drops such as prednisolone or durezol, pill versions of steroids like prednisone, or sometimes injections of steroids around the eye. Many times a drop that dilates the pupil such as atropine or cyclogel will also be needed. The pressure and the inflammation must be monitored in order to adjust the frequency of the steroid drops, and often times some blood work is required to rule out some causes of the condition. Rarely, medicines like methotrexate may be needed to control the inflammation in severe cases. If you have iritis or are concerned that you do, please call 512-686-1224 to make an appointment with Dr. Aaker at Reveal Eye Care & Surgery.

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