“The eyes are the window to the soul” is a common phrase used in many different contexts. We optometrists like to think of the eyes as a window to the body.
I wrote in another article about the effects of diabetes on the eyes, but many other systemic health conditions can have ocular effects as well. There are times where your eye care provider might be the one to diagnose a disease stemming from a different part of the body.
While vascular disorders like high blood pressure and diabetes present findings in the back of the eye, inflammatory and autoimmune conditions can present with an inflammation called uveitis often in the front of the eye.
Uveitis literally means inflammation of the uvea. The uvea consists of the pigmented structures in the eye. The most commonly seen uveitis is in the front of the eye and thus called anterior uveitis.
The front of the eye gets red, and it is often mistaken for “pink eye” and mistreated. Unlike traditional pink eye, there is no discharge and it is not contagious, although it can occur secondary to a systemic infection.
In addition to redness, a person with uveitis usually has a significant aching pain in and around the eye and is often very light sensitive. Treating uveitis generally requires a steroid eye drop to stop the inflammatory process that is occurring.
If there is an underlying cause, such as an autoimmune condition, that will need to be treated as well.
There are three categories of causes of uveitis: inflammatory, infectious, and idiopathic. Some of the inflammatory causes are inflammatory bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, lymphoma and others. These produce widespread inflammation in the body, and the eye can become involved as well.
Infectious causes are herpes simplex and zoster (shingles), syphilis, tuberculosis, Lyme disease, toxoplasmosis and others.
Lastly, idiopathic just means that we are unable to identify a cause for it. This is actually the case over 50 percent of the time.
Many times your eye care provider will order blood work or have your primary care physician investigate to rule out any of these things as a cause of the uveitis.
Generally, if an eye issue is occurring secondary to a problem with the rest of the body, it will continue to recur if the underlying condition is left untreated.
It is incredible how the eyes can be indicators of general health, and these conditions might not be diagnosed as quickly if you are not getting comprehensive eye exams.
Caroline Bundrick, O.D. is an optometrist practicing at Darling Eye Center, with offices in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.