Before I start – this isn’t a sympathy post – whilst I appreciate the good wishes, the last thing I want is anyone to feel sorry for me! Yes, Iritis is a pain (literally and mentally), but no, it doesn’t (really) change my life, and there are people a lot worse off than me – so this is purely an information post about the condition, its causes and symptoms and mainly, how I deal with it.
Firstly, what is Iritis?
Iritis is inflammation of your iris, the coloured part of your eye. It’s also called anterior Uveitis. It has very similar symptoms to most eye issues on the surface (redness, soreness, feels like you just have something stuck in your eye). But, it’s far from that.
I first suffered with Iritis in my early 20’s – I was about to go on holiday with my (then) girlfriend, and it was all a bit stressful. I was sat at work, and I noticed my eye was red. I assumed I’d scratched my eye with some dust or grit, or, worst case, I had conjunctivitis or something (something I’ve never had before, but there’s always a first!). I thought I’d just grab some ointment, so went to the pharmacy.
Thankfully (and I truly mean thankfully) – the pharmacist refused to give me anything, and instead phoned the emergency eye clinic on my behalf. He mentioned that it could be serious, and that I should go immediately to the hospital, which of course, I did.
I’m a bit squeamish at the best of times, but when it comes to eyes, it’s not for me at all. Eye drops are something I could never deal with, so the fear was real right now!
At the hospital, I was greeted by a barrage of questions, and some key tests (vision, pressure and so on). Finally, a doctor saw me, dilated my pupils and concluded that I had Iritis.
I’d never heard of it – so when I got home, I looked it up, of course! Then it dawned on me just how serious it was, and how lucky I was that the pharmacist didn’t just dismiss it as an eye infection and send me home. Iritis can lead to permanent blindness, with every flare up. Long story short, the inflammation at the back of the eye can cause your pupil (the black “hole” in the middle) to get stuck. For most people, the pupil dilates (gets bigger) in darkness, and shrinks again when it’s light. For me, when Iritis is around, it gets stuck. In bad cases that I’ve had, it can cause the pupil to get partially get stuck, causing it to look moon shaped, instead of round. Once it’s stuck, it’s at its worst, and this is when it can become permanently stuck and lead to blindness.
This first case for me was many many years ago – and since, I’ve had uncountable flare ups of Iritis. There is no known main cause for it – but it’s thought that stress is a key player. It’s also known that people with a certain gene deficiency are higher risk – so I had blood tests for this, and I was diagnosed as HLAB-27 Positive, which means I’m more likely to suffer from Iritis (along with other muscular and inflammatory issues, like, back pain, which I suffer with a lot). HLAB27 can, in some people cause severe Arthritis and be at risk of other auto immune diseases. Thankfully, other than the back pain, I’m all good on that front. But it’s something I need to be aware of, and it also means I can’t give blood.
At it’s height, I had Iritis in both eyes at the same time. The treatment is simple, it’s a course of very strong steroid eye drops for several weeks (starting at anything from 8 to 12 times a day, and tapering off over the weeks). These can be accompanied by a dilating eye drop to force the pupil to dilate fully, which means during these days (normally the first couple), everything in my world is damn bright, and blurry. I can’t drive during flare ups to begin with, and staring at computer screens can cause some headaches! During this mammoth flare up, one Doctor offered me a steroid injection in to the pupil. I refused, and opted for more drops, which thankfully did the job! The drops vary based on what the Doctor things will do the best job – for me, its a corticosteroid called Maxidex, with Cyclopentane to dilate my pupil for a couple of days (this one is the stinger, but, it’s good, you know when you’ve applied it properly for sure!)
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had Iritis now. I know the cause, I’ve had scans and blood tests to check there’s nothing else, and it would simply seem that a combination of the funky HLAB27 gene, and stress, are the main triggers.
The past 14 days or so, I’ve been very aware that my stress levels have been rising. There’s been a few triggers. Obviously, being stuck indoors, and the constant niggle of the current Covid situation is one. Coupled with a falling out of love with social media (again) after some unsavoury comments (not personal, and not malicious, but certainly not welcomed) made me really start to worry about things, which hasn’t helped. I’ve taken a step back from that for now, though, so I’m distancing myself from the negatives there.
The other thing, is that I’ve not been able to go to the Gym for 8 weeks now. I’d gotten in to such a good routine, and it was helping with the constant muscle pains in my back, but of course, I can’t go at the moment. I do stretches and weighs at home, and try to get out on my bike as much as I can, but it’s simply not the same.
Thankfully, I know the very early signs of Iritis now, and have a direct dial number for the on call doctors at the amazing Norfolk and Norwich hospital (who I know quite well now!). When a flare up starts, I call them, and I’m in within the hour to be checked, and out again with the drugs required. Because I’ve been so much, they leave me to it, normally, you’d have to go back after 2 weeks for a check, and again after 2 more and so on.
So, here’s the early warning signs, please, don’t risk waiting, if you’re having eye pains, play it safe.
- Redness – around the pupil. Red circles , not just an overall redness.
- Soreness – like, the best way I can describe it is like someone is pulling your eye from behind. It feels tight, and like it needs to snap. It’s hard to explain.
- Irritation – You’ll want to rub your eye, it will feel like you have an eye last or dust in it.
- Light hurts! Photophobia is a key sign for me – if I wake up in the morning and open the curtains, and it hurts, then I know I’m in trouble.
- You’ll just know – honestly, once you’ve had it a few times, you’ll just know. I can say to Ashleigh now a couple of days before all the signs appear that I think it’s on it’s way.
There’s nothing I can do about it – and to be fair, now I know what it is, and how to treat it, I don’t overly care any more (not to sound blasé about it – it’s an awful condition and I have the upmost sympathy for fellow sufferers, but it could be worse, right?). I tend not to even let it bother me now. If I need to go to the hospital, I know what happens now, I must have been nearly 50 times at least. I know what all the equipment is, I know what nurses do what, I know what order to expect the eye drops in – I know what the treatment is. I even know what pharmacies nearby will stock the stronger drops that I need. Basically, I’ve learned to just accept and live with it, and I know now that when it crops up, I can take a couple of hours from my day, visit the doctors and get what I need, and I’ll be fine again in a couple of weeks.
So if you’ve stumbled here googling Iritis, my simple message is please, don’t be scared. Yes, you’ll have to stick eye drops in a lot, but after a couple of days, you’ll be a pro. I don’t even need a mirror now, just bosh, done. You’ll get there. And most importantly. DO NOT dismiss the warning signs – please, because no one wants to go blind.
Be nice, stay safe, try and remain positive – and if your eyes hurts, get them checked out!
As a footnote, and a slightly unrelated (but still related note, see above), please think about what you say to people online – without really knowing them, their family, or their situations. I mean, do this at anytime, and not just online, of course, but even more so at the moment. Your passing comment might not seem upsetting, but you simply don’t know what other people are going through, and what additional stresses it may put on to them. We’re all struggling now in our own ways – let’s not make it worse for each other.