Iritis is an inflammation of the iris, the two layered, pigmented tissue of the eye that defines its color. Lying under the cornea, the translucent tissue that covers the eyeball, the iris separates the front of the eye from the back. It’s often likened to the diaphragm of a camera, because it functions as a shutter, responding to varying light conditions by opening or contracting the pupil. When the iris is inflamed, the eye is red, painful, teary, and sensitive, especially to bright light. The condition can can cause severe headaches that intensify when the eyes are used continuously for several hours. If the inflammation is acute, vision will be blurred. Myopia, or nearsightedness, may also develop, although this tends to be temporary. Iritis may follow an eye injury, in which case the entire eye is likely to be affected because of a process called sympathetic ophthalmia. But more often, it is secondary to other disorders, including nose infections, corneal ulcers, tuberculosis, and syphilis. As part of the body’s network of connective tissues, the iris is also vulnerable to inflammatory changes caused by autoimmune diseases in which the immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissues. Thus, it is one of the manifestations of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, and it often occurs in conjunction with spinal arthritis . In more than half of all cases, however, an underlying cause cannot be found. Like all eye disorders, iritis produces symptoms that require prompt medical care. If neglected, the inflammation may lead to secondary glaucoma and cataract formation.
Diagnostic Studies And Procedures
An ophthalmologist, by inspecting the eye with various magnifying instruments, can readily diagnose the condition. The iris will be swollen and the lines that normally radiate through it may be obscured. An internist or other primary care physician should also be seen for a careful physical examination and tests to determine whether the iritis is related to some other disorder.
When iritis is secondary to a systemic disease, the underlying condition will be treated. At the same time, corticosteroid eye ointment or drops will be given to reduce the inflammation. Oral steroids may also be prescribed. To relieve pain, eye drops containing atropine may be used. This drug keeps the pupil dilated, thereby immobilizing the inflamed iris. The dilation also reduces the risk that the back of the iris may adhere to the lens and cause irreversible eye damage. Occasionally, iritis is traced to a parasitic infection, such as toxoplasmosis. In such cases, drugs to eradicate the organism will also be prescribed.
Alternative therapies are not recommended to treat iritis itself. However, some naturopaths and other alternative practitioners advocate iriscopy, or iridology, a diagnostic tool using a lighted magnifying device to evaluate the condition and appearance of an iris. This approach is based on the fact that an estimated half million nerve filaments of the iris are connected to the cervical ganglia of the sympathetic nervous system. The neurooptic reflex is said to produce changes in the color of the iris that indicate systemic disorders before they can be detected by conventional diagnostic techniques. Iridology is used more widely in Europe than the United States, though some alternative practitioners have learned its basic methods.
Avoid exposure to bright light by wearing sunglasses outdoors and dimming the lights when indoors. Take aspirin or acetaminophen to alleviate pain. When reading or using your yes for other tasks, take breaks often to rest your eyes. Do not wear contact lenses until an ophthalmologist says it’s safe to do so. Have frequent eye checkups, especially if using steroid eye drops.
Other Causes of Eye Redness