Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis is a serious viral eye infection that attacks the light-sensing cells in the retina (the nerve layer that lines the back of the eye). CMV retinitis should be diagnosed and treated immediately, because it can lead to loss of vision, detached retina and, in the worst cases, blindness.
Cytomegalovirus—one of the herpes viruses that infects most adults—is a common source of infection in humans and generally lays dormant in the body without producing symptoms or problems. CMV retinitis is most often found in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as newborns, the elderly, those undergoing immunosuppressive therapy for cancer/leukemia and organ transplant recipients. It is less common in people with HIV or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) who are taking antiretroviral therapies, but is still a risk. CMV infection can occur in several parts of the body, most commonly in the gastrointestinal system and the retina, the tissue in the back of the eye necessary for vision. The human gut houses up to 70% of the immune system and to investigate valuable links between gut health and eye health.
Symptoms of CMV Retinitis
Many people with CMV retinitis experience no symptoms. However, there are certain signs that may be indicative of the virus. These symptoms include:
- Floaters in the eye
- Loss of peripheral (side) vision
- Blurred vision
- Blind spot in vision
These symptoms may appear in one eye first, and then in the other eye. Retinal detachment may also occur with CMV retinitis.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, see your eye doctor immediately.
Treatment for CMV Retinitis
The first step in treatment may be strengthening your immune system. Individuals with HIV/AIDS often improve when on highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Then, the treatment is aimed at slowing the progression of the disease. There are several medications that aim to minimize the effects of CMV retinitis such as, ganciclovir and other antiviral medications. These treatments can be administered in several ways:
- Orally (by mouth)
- Intravenously (through a vein)
- As an eye injection
- Through an implant in the eye that delivers medication over time
Often, your ophthalmologist will need to perform laser surgery to reduce the risk of retinal detachment.
The sooner you begin treatment, the better chance that vision can be helped. If only one eye is infected, receiving proper systemic treatment early may protect the other eye. You can’t get back vision that is lost because of CMV, and even with treatment, the disease may still progress and recurrence is common; it is vital that you maintain regular checkups with your eye doctor.