How IBD Can Impact Your Eyes: Iritis and Uveitis
Last updated: November 2021
Extraintestinal manifestations of IBD
I have dealt with a number of different extraintestinal manifestations of inflammatory bowel disease, but the one that I have dealt with more often than any other is eye irritation. In the nearly 20 years that I have lived with Crohn’s disease, I have had to go see an eye doctor dozens of times to treat the inflammation that has made its way to my eye.
Redness and irritation in the eye with Crohn's
The way it would usually start is feeling as if I have something stuck in my eye. Every time I would blink it would hurt and my eye would start to turn red. Several times I would look and look for something stuck in my eye, but would never find anything.
I would try saline drops or flushing my eye, but that wouldn’t help either. I would initially think it might be something like pink eye, but I never had any discharge or crusting in my eyes. After a couple of days of irritation to my eye, my vision would start to blur.
It would usually start in a small spot and then start to get bigger. It would eventually get to the point that my entire eye would turn red and I remember thinking that it looked like something had exploded in my eye.
What are iritis and uveitis?
Once I made it to the eye doctor, I would be diagnosed with iritis. As it sounds, it is inflammation that impacts the iris of the eye. I know some people are diagnosed with uveitis, which is either very similar or could mean the same thing because iritis is actually a type of uveitis (also known as anterior uveitis).
Symptoms of iritis/uveitis include eye redness, discomfort in the eye, sensitivity to light, and decreased vision.
The treatment for iritis or uveitis
Iritis/uveitis has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease.1 In my experience, the ophthalmologist would do an eye exam that included dilating my pupils and putting numbing drops in my eyes (a very weird feeling, by the way).
The dilated pupils would last for several hours, so I learned to bring the darkest sunglasses I had and to not plan to be outside or anywhere with bright lights for a while. I would be prescribed steroid drops and would take that for a few days to a few weeks, depending on how much inflammation I was dealing with at the time.
I found that, in my case, I most often would have an issue around the start of the spring, so it’s possible that the changing seasons also played in role.
Learning the signs of iritis/uveitis
Ultimately, I have always been able to get things under control quickly. I learned the signs, so I would be able to go in to see my ophthalmologist as soon as I noticed them and it would be much easier to get under control.
Thankfully, when treated early, iritis/uveitis is usually fairly simple to get under control. However, if left untreated, it could lead to cataracts, glaucoma, scar tissue build-up, and even loss of vision, so it is important to see an ophthalmologist if you notice any of these symptoms and to be sure they are aware of your history with inflammatory bowel disease.
What has been the most helpful for managing IBD symptoms?