Inflammatory eye condition iritis should be treated immediately
When a university professor friend of mine needs to write a thesis, or has a lot of work to do, he suffers from red eyes, blurry vision and headaches, and he becomes oversensitive to light.
He thought the symptoms were due to stress and working late at night, thinking this made his eyes tired. He believed the problems would subside after a good night's sleep.
The symptoms always persisted, and when I carried out a thorough eye exam, I found out he was suffering from iritis.
Iritis is an inflammatory condition of the iris, the coloured portion of the eye which surrounds the pupil.
It causes varying degrees of redness of the eye, often with significant pain, sensitivity to light, tearing, and blurred vision. Iritis is called anterior uveitis when inflammation occurs at the front part of the eye; any inflammation behind this is known as posterior uveitis.
The uvea is the collective name for the pigmented portions of the internal eye, and includes the iris, the ciliary body, and the choroid.
The iris is the part of the eye which is visible in the mirror, and gives the eye its colour. The pupil is the opening in the iris through which light passes. The iris comprises muscular fibres that dictate the amount of light entering the pupil so we can see clearly. It does this by shrinking the pupil in bright light, and enlarging it in dim light.
My friend needed to know if iritis was caused by stress and if that would cause complications.
Most cases of iritis have no specific causes. The condition could be caused by stress, because stress could tip the balance of the immune system, as it did with my friend.
Iritis sufferers who have immune problems could find that if the condition is not treated in time, it could cause complications, such as glaucoma and cataracts.
The main causes of iritis are due to problems of the immune system. The white blood cells in our immune system destroy harmful substances and prevent illness. But in people suffering from iritis, the white blood cells mistake the iris as the "enemy" and attack the cells of the iris, causing inflammation.
In some cases, iritis may be a consequence of trauma (traumatic iritis). Non-traumatic causes are often linked with systemic diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis, Reiter's syndrome, sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis, while infections caused may include Lyme disease and several others.
It is thought that up to 52 out of 100,000 people develop iritis each year. It generally affects people between the ages of 20 and 59, and is uncommon in children, although it can still affect anyone.
Some patients ignore the problem at the initial stage and buy over-the-counter eye drops to treat the symptoms. But sufferers should remember that the earlier the condition is treated by a professional, the easier it is to control.
Anyone who feels they are suffering from iritis, or is showing signs of major eye pain involving bright light, blurred vision, or redness of the eye, especially around the iris, should contact an ophthalmologist.
Treatment includes the use of eye drops and pills to reduce pain and start the healing process. In more severe cases, cortisone may be used.
Iritis usually clears up in a few days, but it may remain for months, or become chronic and recurrent. It is important that it is recognised and treated immediately.
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure, and the best approach is to carefully monitor your lifestyle, rest well and at regular times, relax to reduce stress and seek medical advice if symptoms appear or persist.
Dr Jeff Hui is a Hong Kong-based ophthalmologist