Living with uveitis
Uveitis is a rare condition that affects around two to five people in every 10,000 in the UK (Source: NHS). Although living with uveitis can be frustrating, there is plenty of support available to help you manage any eye pain and aim to prevent uveitis from coming back. Having underlying health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, can increase the risk of recurrent or chronic uveitis.
It's important to get help if you experience symptoms of uveitis such as eye pain, redness, floaters and vision changes. Permanent vision loss can be a complication of uveitis if it isn't treated promptly, so it's always better to see an optician if you have any concerns.
Managing your uveitis
For many people, especially with anterior uveitis (at the front of the eye), a course of steroid eye drops can be sufficient to deal with the condition. You can relieve your symptoms while recovering:
- If you're experiencing light sensitivity (photophobia), wearing sunglasses can help.
- If you're having eye pain, over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol can help, as can using a warm damp flannel to soothe sore eyes.
Some medications for uveitis can cause side effects, particularly steroids, when taken for a long time. Your ophthalmologist should speak to you about this before you start treatment. Always talk to your doctor if you are concerned about any of these side effects.
Overall, the complications that can happen if uveitis isn't treated outweigh the negative side effects of treatments. For example, uveitis can lead to sight loss and complications such as glaucoma, macular oedema, cataracts, and retinal detachment.
Living with chronic uveitis
Chronic uveitis, lasting longer than three months, is associated with a higher chance of complications leading to sight loss. Intermediate uveitis and posterior uveitis are more likely to become chronic.
If you're living with chronic uveitis, you'll continue to see an eye specialist to monitor the condition and make treatment decisions. You'll discuss longer-term treatment options with your eye doctor, such as:
- Immunosuppressants to help limit the amount of steroids you need to take
- Surgery which is sometimes needed, for example, to treat complications of uveitis or steroid medications used
- You may also need treatment for any underlying conditions such as infection, autoimmune or inflammatory disease
How long does uveitis last?
Simple one-off cases of anterior uveitis can be cleared within six to eight weeks with a course of corticosteroid medication, usually eye drops. It’s essential to take your ophthalmologist’s advice on how long to take steroids. The good news is, any pain you may be experiencing should go away in a few days, but the inflammation can last a little longer.
Some people have to deal with repeated flare-ups for uveitis, particularly if they have underlying conditions such as autoimmune disease or an inflammatory illness. Go for regular eye exams to monitor your eye health and get help quickly if symptoms of uveitis come back.
All types of uveitis can potentially develop into chronic uveitis, lasting longer than three months. However, this is more likely with intermediate uveitis and posterior uveitis.
Can you go to work with uveitis?
If you're diagnosed with uveitis, you may need steroid medication, usually in the form of eye drops. Uveitis can cause pain or temporary blurring of vision meaning you might need some time off work until you're feeling better. However it's not transmitted to other people and it's OK to go to work if you feel able to. This can depend on the type of work you do. For example, if you drive at work, your vision must meet the required DVLA standard. If you are taking steroids in tablet form you must be able to stay alert, as steroids can cause drowsiness in some people.
In cases of chronic uveitis, you may have frequent clinic appointments and surgery is sometimes also needed, so it can be a good idea to talk to your employer about your situation and how they can support you if you need to recover.
Uveitis can sometimes lead to complications, including vision loss, but this is not common. If this happens, it doesn't automatically mean you'll have to stop working. Employers are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to help people with visual impairments at work.
Uveitis and driving
If your uveitis has been treated successfully without affecting your vision, it won’t affect your ability to drive.
However, your sight may be temporarily affected by the condition. Chronic uveitis can affect your central vision or your peripheral vision which is also needed for driving.
Speak to your optician for advice, as the DVLA requires a minimum standard of eyesight for driving at all times.
Frequently asked questions
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The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.