Dogma for reasons of immune privilege including sequestration (sic) of ocular antigen, lack of lymphatic and immune competent cells in the vital tissues of the eye has long evaporated. Maintaining tissue and cellular health to preserve vision requires active immune responses to prevent damage and respond to danger. A priori the eye must contain immune competent cells, undergo immune surveillance to ensure homoeostasis as well as an ability to promote inflammation. By interrogating immune responses in non-infectious uveitis and compare with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), new concepts of intraocular immune health emerge. The role of macrophage polarisation in the two disorders is a tractable start. TNF-alpha regulation of macrophage responses in uveitis has a pivotal role, supported via experimental evidence and validated by recent trial data. Contrast this with the slow, insidious degeneration in atrophic AMD or in neovasular AMD, with the compelling genetic association with innate immunity and complement, highlights an ability to attenuate pathogenic immune responses and despite known inflammasome activation. Yolk sac-derived microglia maintains tissue immune health. The result of immune cell activation is environmentally dependent, for example, on retinal cell bioenergetics status, autophagy and oxidative stress, and alterations that skew interaction between macrophages and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). For example, dead RPE eliciting macrophage VEGF secretion but exogenous IL-4 liberates an anti-angiogenic macrophage sFLT-1 response. Impaired autophagy or oxidative stress drives inflammasome activation, increases cytotoxicity, and accentuation of neovascular responses, yet exogenous inflammasome-derived cytokines, such as IL-18 and IL-33, attenuate responses.Eye advance online publication, 16 September 2016; doi:10.1038/eye.2016.177.