Guest Blog: Inflammatory Eye Disease Awareness Week

To celebrate Inflammatory Eye Disease Awareness week (September 27-October 3, 2021), we invited Jeffrey Todd, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness to discuss the importance of eye care to protect your vision now and in the future. He is passionate about educating parents and children regarding eye health and ensuring everyone has access to the care they need. We hope you will learn more about the diseases that can affect the eye and see how you can help make eye health your focus.

Here at Prevent Blindness, our mission is in our name – “to prevent blindness and preserve sight.”  It is our vision that all children are afforded the benefits of sight as they grow and learn; that all adults are educated about, and have access to, proper eye health care; that necessary attention is provided to issues surrounding the aging eye; and that no one needlessly loses their sight due to unsafe practices or inequitable access to care. One of our core responsibilities is to provide in-depth and easily understood information to consumers in all areas of eye health.

This year, with the support of our friends at Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, we are recognizing September 27 through October 3 as Inflammatory Eye Disease Awareness Week, and will be tapping into our website, social media, and e-mail network to draw attention to this under discussed set of conditions.  But what exactly is inflammatory eye disease?

To understand inflammatory eye disease, we first need to understand inflammation – a broad, and often-used term that covers a range of responses the body has to injury, infection, or irritation. Areas of the body may become red, irritated, swollen, or even painful. Inflammation can sometimes occur in response to normally harmless substances, such as certain foods, dust, grass, or pollen. This is called an allergic reaction. The immune system may also mistakenly trigger inflammation in response to the body. This is called an autoimmune reaction.

From this it flows that eye inflammation occurs in response to infection, allergies, autoimmune disorders, irritation, injury, or trauma to the eyes, eyelids, or surrounding tissues. Different parts of the eye can be affected, depending on the cause of the inflammation. “Inflammatory eye disease” is actually a very broad term that covers a wide range of conditions. Just a few of these include:

  • Uveitis [u-vee-i-tis] is a term for inflammation of the eye. It can occur in one eye or both eyes and affects the layer of the eye called the uvea [u-vee-uh]. It also can be associated with inflammation of other parts of the eye and last for a short (acute) or a long (chronic) time. Uveitis can be serious and lead to permanent vision loss.
  • Keratitis [keh·ruh·tai·tuhs], also known as “corneal ulcer”, is an inflammation of the cornea – the clear, dome shaped window located at the front of the eye that covers the iris and pupil. Keratitis resulting from infections (called infectious keratitis) can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.
  • Conjunctivitis [kuhn·juhngk·tuh·vai·tuhs], or pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear mucous membrane that covers the white part of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid. It is the most common eye infection in the United States.
  • Thyroid eye disease (TED), sometimes called Graves’ ophthalmopathy or Graves’ Eye Disease, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system causes inflammation and swelling and stimulates the production of muscle tissue and fat behind the eye. The overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) is usually, but not always, caused by Graves’ disease. but can also occur without the presence of Graves’ disease.

Eye inflammation is common and can happen at any age. The length of time of the eye inflammation and treatment will depend on the type and severity of the underlying disease, disorder, or condition. And in fact, inflammation can be a good thing, in that it alerts you that your body is working to fight off some sort of “attack.” However, it is essential that you respond immediately to this “alert” – seek diagnosis and treatment of inflammatory eye disease early from an eye doctor.  While most cases of inflammation can be successfully treated, in rare cases there can be a serious disease present which threatens eyesight. These diseases may cause permanent damage to the eyes and vision that cannot be reversed. If you notice any of the signs or symptoms of inflammatory eye disease, make an appointment to see your eye doctor right away for a thorough eye exam. If support is needed, Prevent Blindness has a list of financial assistance resources to help meet your eye health needs.

Our eyes are powerful and miraculous instruments. And despite often misleading assumptions about the inevitability of sight loss as we age, with proper care and attention, our eyes can serve us well for a lifetime! Learn more about how to secure and maintain healthy sight for you and those you care about at www.preventblindness.org.