Can GI Issues Cause Eye Problems?

Reviewed on 3/29/2022
Bacteria microorganism
Gut bacteria may trigger autoimmune uveitis. In lab mice, researchers found large amounts of activated T cells in the intestines before the mice developed signs of uveitis.

Uveitis is inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, called the uvea or uveal tract, that can occur due to infection or an autoimmune disorder that can result in eye pain, redness, and vision loss.

Uveitis may be categorized according to how long it lasts. 

  • Acute uveitis
    • Develops quickly and improves within three months 
  • Recurrent uveitis 
    • Repeated episodes of inflammation separated by gaps of several months 
  • Chronic uveitis 
    • Inflammation lasts longer and returns within three months after treatment ends

A study from The National Eye Institute (NEI) on mice found that gut bacteria may trigger autoimmune uveitis, an inflammatory eye disorder. 

The proteins thought to be involved in autoimmune uveitis are isolated in the eye and are not present anywhere else in the body. In autoimmune uveitis, certain immune cells called T cells are believed to penetrate through the blood-eye barrier and the study looked at what might activate these T cells and allow them to cross the blood-eye barrier.

In mice genetically engineered to develop autoimmune uveitis, researchers found large amounts of activated T cells in the intestines before the mice developed signs of disease, supporting the idea that the activation of T cells in the gut may precede the first signs of the disease.

What Are Symptoms of Autoimmune Uveitis?

Symptoms of autoimmune uveitis may affect one or both eyes, can develop suddenly or gradually over a few days, and may include:

  • Eye pain/dull ache in or around the eye
    • May worsen when focusing 
  • Eye redness 
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia) 
  • Blurred or cloudy vision 
  • Eye “floaters
  • Loss of peripheral vision

What Causes Autoimmune Uveitis?

Autoimmune uveitis occurs in people who have an autoimmune condition. 

Autoimmune conditions known to cause uveitis include:

What Is the Treatment for Autoimmune Uveitis?

Treatment for autoimmune uveitis usually includes medications and in rare cases, surgery. 

Currently, the research that found that gut bacteria may trigger autoimmune uveitis does not have immediate implications for patients, but it can help set the foundation for future research to understand the condition and to help develop new therapies.

Medications used to treat autoimmune uveitis include: 

  • Steroids 
    • Most cases can be treated with steroids, usually prednisolone
    • Available as eye drops, injections, and tablets or capsules 
  • Mydriatic eye drops
    • These eye drops dilate the pupils, which relaxes the muscles in the eye to help relieve pain 
  • Immunosuppressants
    • Used in patients who do not respond to steroids or mydriatic eye drops
  • Surgery
    • Only used in severe or recurrent cases
    • Vitrectomy, which involves gently sucking out the jelly-like substance inside of the eye (vitreous humor)

Home treatments to relieve symptoms of uveitis include: 

  • Wearing dark glasses for light sensitivity
  • Placing a warm compress over the eye to soothe it
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain relief

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Reviewed on 3/29/2022
References
Image source: iStock Images

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/uveitis-bacteria-gut-may-instruct-immune-cells-attack-eye

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/uveitis/