What You Need to Know About Ulcerative Colitis and Eye Health

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Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the lining of the large intestine. But did you know its effects can extend to your eyes? Unmanaged UC can also generate eye inflammation that can lead to uveitis, iritis, episcleritis, and dry eye.


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Uveitis: Part 1

Uveitis develops when the middle layer of the eye — the uvea — becomes red and swollen. The uvea has three parts — the iris, the ciliary body, and the choroid — that control certain functions of the eye. Signs and symptoms include redness, pain, light sensitivity, blurry vision, floating spots, and decreased vision. The inflammation from uveitis can damage eye tissue and lead to vision loss if it is untreated.


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Uveitis: Part 2

To resolve the uveitis, the first step is to control your ulcerative colitis. However, ophthalmologists can also prescribe eye drops that help eliminate symptoms such as redness and swelling. These medications can also be prescribed as injections or pills.


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Episcleritis: Part 1

Episcleritis happens when the outer layer of the white of the eye — the episclera — is inflamed. The most common symptom is redness in the eye. Some people only experience this symptom, yet others also experience discomfort and sensitivity in their eye. Episcleritis typically resolves in two to three weeks, but can last longer and recer in people living with UC if the ulcerative colitis is not well-managed.


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Episcleritis: Part 2

Episcleritis generally resolves on its own as ulcerative colitis is treated. However, there are certain practices and medications that a doctor may recommend. Cool compresses and cold artificial tears can ease the pain and discomfort. If they don't provide relief, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can help treat episcleritis.


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Dry eye: Part 1

People who have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like ulcerative colitis are more likely to have an IBD-related vitamin A deficiency that increases the chance of developing dry eye disease. When a person doesn’t produce enough healthy tears to lubricate the eye’s surface, that person can develop dry eye disease. Symptoms can include a burning sensation, blurred vision, scratchy eyes, and excessive tears.


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Dry eye: Part 2

Treating the cause of dry eye — ulcerative colitis — can clear the signs and symptoms. Depending on the severity of the dry eye symptoms, an eye doctor may recommend over-the-counter artificial tears to lubricate the eye, antibiotics to treat inflammationm eye inserts to stimulate tears, drugs to increase tear production, or blood serum drops to increase tears.


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Iritis: Part 1

Iritis is the most common type of uveitis. It happens when the iris, the colored ring that circles the eye’s pupil, becomes inflamed. Iritis can affect one eye at a time or both eyes. It lasts for 6-8 weeks. Symptoms are redness, discomfort, sensitivity to light, and decreased vision.


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Iritis: Part 2

Because the cause of iritis is ulcerative colitis, it is necessary to first treat ulcerative colitis. Other treatments help to ease pain and inflammation. Steroid and dilating eye drops help to reduce pain and inflammation. If left untreated, iritis can lead to cataracts, damaged pupils, glaucoma, calcium deposits on the cornea, or swelling of the retina.


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Prevention

Not everyone with ulcerative colitis will develop eye conditions, but the best way to prevent them is to work with your doctor to effectively manage your IBD. Additionally, take care to make regular visits to the eye doctor so that any complications can be detected at the onset. Early treatment is the best way to maintain healthy eyesight.