Immune System Deficiency And Eye Disease

Health & Medical Blog

Your immune system fights off infections so effectively that you have no idea that you were on the verge of becoming ill. When this protective barrier fails, your body is susceptible to a number of potential infectious organisms. Even your eyes become vulnerable to damage without the immune system to protect them. Here is one way that your eyes can be affected if your immune system is not working optimally.

The Cytomegalovirus

Most people come into contact with the cytomegalovirus (CMV) in their lifetime. The immune system prevents this virus from having an impact, but once exposed, you can carry this virus with you for the rest of your life. The virus can live in your body indefinitely and it may never become a problem. When an individual experiences a weakness of their immune system, this virus can then multiply and become a health issue.

CMV Retinitis

Once the immune system stops protecting you, the cytomegalovirus can attack your retinas. A condition called CMV retinitis develops which, if not treated, can cause total blindness. A number of conditions can cause a suppressed immune system, such as:

Bone marrow transplant - This temporarily affects the production of cells used by your immune system to fight off disease.

Chemotherapy - This can also disrupt the production of immune system cells.

Medications - Some medications prevent the immune system from working properly.

HIV and AIDS - The virus responsible for HIV and AIDS suppresses your immune system response to bacteria and viruses.

You may have very few symptoms until your retinas have been severely damaged. Initially, the symptoms of a cytomegalovirus infection can include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • congestion
  • stomach ulcers

If you do have vision symptoms, they may include:

  • blind spots throughout your vision
  • gray shadows that float across your vision
  • blurry vision
  • difficulty reading in low light

Diagnosing CMV Retinitis

Your may first go to your doctor because of the flu-like symptoms. They will do blood tests to look for low cell counts which indicate an immune system failure. If this is the case, then you'll need to see your eye doctor for a complete exam. They will look for signs that the CMV has damaged your retinas. What they will look for includes:

  • redness and swelling of the retina
  • inflammation of the eye tissue to which the retina is attached
  • signs that the retina is pulling away from the eye tissue

Should the retina become detached from the eye, partial or total blindness occurs.

Treating CMV Retinitis

Medication to fight the viral infection are prescribed. The goal is to prevent further eye issues from the virus while the immune system is healing. The challenge is that these medications can also produce complications due to the suppresses immune system. These include:

  • reduced kidney function
  • low white cell count

During your treatment for CMV retinitis, your doctor (like those at Family Eye Health & Contact Lens Center) will want to do frequent blood test to measure your kidney function and white cell counts.

Once the virus is under control and can no longer affect your retina, you'll need to visit your eye doctor more often for a checkup. Any fluctuations in your immune system can allow the virus to flare up again and cause vision issues. 


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