Some cases have a strong link to poor diet and smoking while in others it may be linked to a host of other medical problems, including headaches, injuries, infections (as tuberculosis, herpes, or syphilis), illnesses (as chronic intestinal diseases), other arthritic forms including rheumatoid and juvenile types, as well as other problems with the immune system, allergies, deafness, numbness or weakness, vitiligo (patches of depigmentation), skin rashes, oral or genital ulcers, bowel problems, joint aches or pains, or difficulty breathing.
It may also be caused by parasites (including toxoplasmosis), viruses, or such other diseases as tuberculosis or syphilis.
Technically, uvea is the collective term for the three different elements that form the pigmented tissue of the eye – the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. These three tissues are joined together throughout the eye, and together they are known as the uveal tract. Uveitis is the general name given to any inflammation that strikes the uvea.
The iris is the circular, coloured part of the eye behind the cornea, which also controls the pupil to open and shut in order to regulate the light that enters the eye.
The ciliary body lies behind the iris and is connected to the lens of the eye. The ciliary body produces aqueous fluid and moves the lens to focus the eye properly.
The choroid is the dark, middle tissue layer between the retina and the sclera, or white part of the eye, which is the back portion of the uveal tract. This is a highly vascularized tissue layer that supplies blood to the eye. Blood circulates through the choroid layer to nourish and support the eye.
Specifically, when an inflammation occurs in the iris, it is called iritis; when it strikes the ciliary body, it is called cyclitis; and if the choroid is targeted, the result is choroiditis, which is also known as posterior uveitis or simply “arthritis of the eye.”
If the inflammation affects two areas, the names are combined. For example,it is iridocyclitis (iris and ciliary body) or chorioretinitis (choroid and retina). If the entire eye is inflamed, it is called panuveitis.
Such an inflammation can be blinding. While it generally strikes young or middle-aged adults, it can happen at any time in life.
Anterior uveitis (iridocyclitis) is more painful than posterior uveitis. Symptoms of anterior uveitis include redness, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and extreme pain, especially when focusing on near objects. Usually a specific cause is not found.
The general symptoms of uveitis can include blurry vision, red eyes, photophobia (sensitivity to light), floating spots, and pain or aching around the eyes. Some people do not suffer any symptoms during the early stages.
Juvenile forms of arthritis create a greater risk for uveitis, and children with such conditions require more frequent eye examinations. If left untreated in anyone, uveitis can lead to a large number of even more serious eye conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, and damage to the retina, cornea, and optic nerve.
Even though some forms of uveitis cannot be cured, prompt treatment can prevent further damage. In severe cases, burning, itching, and a profuse discharge are possible.
Sometimes skin lesions develop up to six weeks after the onset of other symptoms and resemble psoriasis. These appear most often on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, but can develop anywhere on the trunk, extremeties, or scalp. Nails become thick, brittle, and opaque with keratic debris accumulating under the nails.
In many cases, painless ulcerations erupt in the mouth and on the tongue. Conventional treatment often includes antibiotics and drugs that suppress the immune system (as cortisone and anti-cancer medications) but these tend to further disrupt the immune system. (Safe alternatives can be found in Nature’s Pharmacy: Evidence-based Alternatives to Drugs)
Also known as “thyroid eye disease” or “hyperthyroidism,” it is sometimes erroneously thought of as an eye disease; but it affects the eye sockets rather than the eyeball itself.
The condition begins when the tissue inside the socket becomes enlarged, forcing the eyes to move over to make room. Adding to this complication, the muscles that move the eyes can also become swollen and may not function properly.
With some people, the eyes are thrown out of alignment by the increased pressure, causing crossed eyes and double vision. For others, the eyes are just pushed out a bit farther giving a very wide-eyed expression. While many people consider this a disfigurement, a number of actors have used it to their advantage – Marty Feldman, Bette Davis, Eddie Cantor, and Peter Lorre, for example.
People with bulging eyes sometimes develop abnormally large eyelid openings. This means that the eyelid has more of the eyeball to clean, bathe, and cover when it blinks.
Sometimes there is a part of the eye just below the center that the eyelids are not able to cover, resulting in the cornea becoming dry and eventually leading to scarring and vision loss.
Regardless of how the disease affects appearance, the condition can cause increased pressure in the eyes themselves which, in turn, can damage the optic nerve.
With Grave’s Disease, as far as the eyes are concerned, one or both eyes can be affected and each to a different degree. It also is seen more in women than in men. Those who develop the condition usually have a history of an overactive thyroid gland, and symptoms can develop years after the condition has been treated.
Sometimes, it lasts only a year or two and then disappears, returning the eye to a normal position. Medication is helpful to some, but not others; and some conditions are reversed without any intervention at all. It is not known what triggers the condition, but there has been a link to aspartame. However, this is not the sole cause.
The main complaint is swollen eyelids. One way to help this condition is to elevate the head of the bed about six inches, which will help to reduce the accumulation of fluid during the night.
Cosmetically, by wearing slightly tinted glasses, the condition will be less noticeable to others. If the eyes become so protruded that the cornea becomes dry, using a soothing ophthalmic ointment at night and artificial tears during the day can help. In extreme cases, surgery is required to relieve pressure.
Collagen Vascular Disease
This is a broad term sometimes used to describe arthritis and arthritis-like conditions, all linked because they cause inflammation and scarring of connective tissue.
In many of these disorders, an autoimmune reaction takes place, where the body begins to attack itself. Frequently, the eye is a target.
Steroids are often given for diseases involving inflammation, including those of the eyes but a single dose has been known to permanently adversely affect the vision in some people. Long-term use is known to cause many other health problems, including more serious ones affecting the eyes as well as other organs of the body.
The following is a list of such arthritic conditions and the eye symptoms that they display:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (dry eyes, episcleritis, scleritis, or an usual thinning or “melting” of the cornea and/or sclera)
- Sjögren’s syndrome (dry eyes, uveitis, optic neuritis, inflammation of the retinal blood vessels)
- Behçet’s disease (uveitis, inflammation of the retinal blood vessels and choroid)
- Reiter’s syndrome (conjunctivitis, iritis)
- Psoriatic arthritis (iritis)
- Scleroderma (dry eyes, inflammation of the retinal blood vessels, iritis, cataracts)
- Ankylosing spondylitis (uveitis)
- Sarcoidosis (uveitis, swelling of the lacrimal gland, and localized conjunctival swelling; optic nerve involvement)