Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA

James Krider, MD

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Inflamed iris - Iritis/anterior uveitis

What is an inflamed iris?

Iritis is the medical term for inflammation and swelling of the iris — the colored part of the eye that surrounds the pupil — and the nearby white tissue. The eye appears red, and there may be visible bulging of the iris.

The inflammation and swelling usually cause pain in and around the eye, which may be accompanied by a severe headache in the area. The affected eye is usually highly sensitive to light (photophobia). Vision may become blurred and there may be temporary near­sightedness (myopia).

What causes an inflamed iris?

Most of the time, the cause cannot be identified. Some researchers believe that a viral infection, either in the eye or in some other part of the body, may cause iritis.


  • Pain centered in the eye.
  • Headache.
  • Nearsightedness or blurred vision.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • Increased tearing.
  • Swelling and dull appearance of the iris.
  • Small, irregularly shaped pupils.

The inflammation also may be due to an allergy.

Other eye disorders sometimes lead to an inflamed iris. Examples include a detached retina, corneal ulcer, and certain types of conjunctivitis. Sometimes iritis is secondary to another disease. For example, children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis frequently develop iritis and should be checked regularly by an ophthalmologist. Spinal arthritis also has been linked to iritis.

How is an inflamed iris diagnosed and treated?

An ophthalmologist usually can establish a diagnosis by examining the eye with a

Iritis causes bulging and inflammation of the iris and surrounding white tissue.

Iritis causes bulging and inflammation of the iris and surrounding white tissue.

strong light and magnifying devices. The iris and surrounding tissue appear inflamed and swollen. The lines that are normally easy to see radiating through the iris are obscured, and the pupil may look small and irregularly shaped.

When the ophthalmologist examines other parts of the eye, clumps of inflammatory cells often are visible on the cornea. The aqueous humor, the watery fluid in the interior of the eyeball, often appears thick and opaque.

Other eye conditions may produce similar symptoms, and these should be considered before arriving at a diagnosis of iritis. For example, conjunctivitis produces pain, burning, and redness, but the pain is not as severe as in iritis. Furthermore, with conjunctivitis, the iris, cornea, and pupil appear normal. In addition, conjunctivitis usually produces pus, whereas in iritis, there is excessive tearing, but no pus or mucus.

Acute glaucoma also may produce some symptoms similar to those of iritis, but with glaucoma, the iris looks normal, vision is more limited, and the shape of the eye's anterior chamber is shallow.

Treatment depends upon the severity of the disease. Eye drops containing atropine and steroids are usually prescribed, and in some cases, steroid pills also may be given.

What can I do myself?
There is no self-treatment for an inflamed iris.

When should I see my doctor?
Consult an eye specialist whenever you have a painful, inflamed eye, changes in vision, or other such symptoms. It is important to rule out glaucoma, a detached retina, and other disorders that can cause vision loss.

What will the doctor do?
The doctor carefully examines the eyes and, after establishing a diagnosis of iritis, may look for possible causes of the problem. A physical examination, blood tests, and x-ray studies may be indicated to rule out a systemic disease or infection.

If steroids are prescribed to suppress the inflammation, frequent follow-up visits are needed to make sure that the medication is not causing serious side effects. In some people, for example, steroid eye drops may precipitate formation of cataracts. They also can lower resistance to infections.

The course of an inflamed iris

Acute iritis may last for a few days or weeks and tends to recur. If the condition becomes chronic, it can lead to deformity of the lens and other eye structures. Untreated chronic iritis can cause a type of glaucoma (angle-closure glaucoma) that quickly results in blindness. It can also cause cataracts, corneal disease, and open-angle glaucoma.

Is an inflamed iris dangerous?
If diagnosed and treated promptly, it is not dangerous. If neglected, however, it can result in reduced vision and even blindness.

What can I do to avoid an inflamed iris?

Since the cause is usually unknown, there are no specific preventive measures. A child with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis should have frequent eye examinations, and a previous bout of iritis is an indication to have regular eye checkups.

In iritis, the radiating lines of the iris are often blurred, as shown here.

In iritis, the radiating lines of the iris are often blurred, as shown here.
This article was last reviewed December 1, 2005 by Dr. James Krider.
Reproduced in part with permission of Home Health Handbook.
Detached retina
juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
Spinal arthritis
Ulcer, corneal
Viral infection

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