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Iritis

Iritis (i-RIE-tis) is inflammation that affects your eye's iris, the colored ring surrounding your pupil. The iris is a part of the middle layer of the eye (uvea), so iritis is a type of uveitis, sometimes called anterior uveitis.

The cause of iritis is often unknown. Sometimes iritis results from an underlying systemic condition or genetic factor.

Iritis is a serious condition that, if left untreated, could lead to glaucoma or vision loss. If you have symptoms of iritis, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Signs and symptoms of iritis may include:

  • Eye redness
  • Discomfort or achiness in the affected eye
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Blurred vision
  • Floating specks or spots in your vision

Iritis that develops suddenly, over hours or days, is known as as acute iritis. Symptoms that develop gradually or last longer than six weeks indicate chronic iritis.

When to see a doctor

See an eye specialist as soon as possible if you have symptoms of iritis. Prompt treatment helps prevent serious complications. If you're experiencing eye pain and vision problems with other signs and symptoms, you may need urgent medical care.

Often, the cause of iritis can't be determined. In some cases, however, iritis can be linked to eye trauma, genetic factors or certain diseases. Known causes of iritis include:

  • Injury to the eye. Blunt force trauma, a penetrating injury, or a burn from a chemical or fire can cause acute iritis.
  • Infections. Shingles (herpes zoster) on your face can cause iritis. Other infectious diseases, such as toxoplasmosis, histoplasmosis, tuberculosis and syphilis, may be linked to other types of uveitis.
  • Genetic predisposition. People who develop certain autoimmune diseases because of a gene alteration that affects their immune systems might also develop acute iritis. Diseases include ankylosing spondylitis, Reiter's syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriatic arthritis.
  • Behcet's disease. An uncommon cause of acute iritis in Western countries, this condition is also characterized by joint problems, mouth sores and genital sores.
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic iritis can develop in children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Sarcoidosis. This autoimmune disease involves the growth of collections of inflammatory cells (granulomas) in areas of your body, including your eyes.
  • Certain medications. Some drugs, such as the antibiotic rifabutin (Mycobutin) and the antiviral medication cidofovir (Vistide) that are used to treat HIV infections, might cause iritis. Stopping these medications usually stops the iritis symptoms.

Your risk of developing iritis increases if you:

  • Have a specific genetic alteration. People with HLA-B27, a specific change in a gene that's essential for healthy immune system function, are more likely to develop iritis.
  • Develop a sexually transmitted infection. Certain infections, such as syphilis or HIV/AIDs, are linked with a significant risk of iritis.
  • Live in certain geographic locations where infectious causes are more prevalent, for instance, in the U.S. in the Ohio or Mississippi river valleys where histoplasmosis — a fungal infection — occurs more frequently.
  • Have a compromised immune system or autoimmune disorder.

If not treated properly, iritis could lead to complications, including:

  • Cataracts. Development of a clouding of the lens of your eye (cataract) is a possible complication, especially if you've experienced a long period of inflammation.
  • An irregular pupil. Scar tissue can cause the iris to stick to the underlying lens or the peripheral cornea, making the pupil irregular in shape and the iris sluggish in its reaction to light.
  • Glaucoma. Recurrent iritis can result in glaucoma, a serious eye condition characterized by increased pressure inside the eye (intraocular) and possible vision loss.
  • Calcium deposits on the cornea (band keratopathy). This condition results in degeneration of your cornea and could decrease your vision.
  • Swelling within the retina (cystoid macular edema). Swelling and fluid-filled cysts that develop in the retina at the back of the eye (macular retina) can blur or decrease your central vision.
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