General Eye Problems
General eye problems are the kinds of complaints that almost everyone has at some point in their lives. They are usually not very serious, but if they are left untreated they can be irritating, and some can even cause permanent problems, including vision loss.
So what are we talking about here? Some examples are pink eye, dry eyes, styes, and eye floaters. Here's a closer look at each, with advice on what to do if you have it. Of course, the best advice for all of these complaints is to get yourself to an eye doctor, who can prescribe the proper treatment so your eyes will look good, feel good, and see well usually in a lot less time than it would take if you let the problem just "run its course."
Some of the general eye problems you may have experienced or heard about from your friends are actually types of eye infections. These include blepharitis, pink eye, and styes.
Blepharitis is an eyelid inflammation, and there are two main types. Anterior blepharitis is inflammation where your eyelashes are attached to your eyelid, and it's often caused by a bacterial infection or a viral infection. Posterior blepharitis is inflammation at the inner edges of your eyelids, and it causes your meibomian gland to either reduce its output of the important oils that are a component of your tears, or to produce abnormal oils that are too concentrated.
Both types of blepharitis are unpleasant, to say the least. Besides the eyelid inflammation that makes your eyelids look thick, there may be redness of the eyelids, crusting, foamy tears, burning, tearing, itching, and an annoying feeling that something is in your eye.
There are other types of blepharitis as well, but the important takeaway here is that if you don't go to an eye doctor and get a precise diagnosis of which type you have, plus a treatment plan that involves frequent eyelid cleansing and medicated eye drops, your blepharitis might not go away. Or it might recur again and again.
The danger of recurring blepharitis is that your eyelids and cornea could suffer long-term and even permanent damage, altering your appearance and even affecting your vision.
Pink eye is usually caused by bacterial or viral infection, too, but another cause can be allergies. The medical term for pink eye is actually conjunctivitis, but the common name makes sense because a pink eye is the primary symptom of it.
Just as its name implies, bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria that has somehow made its way into your eye. Children are particularly prone to this kind of eye infection, because they are unclean little creatures who don't like to wash their hands! If you are prone to it as well, you'll reduce your chance of getting bacterial conjunctivitis again if you just wash your hands often and avoid touching or rubbing your eyes. That's it.
Antibiotic eye drops will generally help bacterial conjunctivitis go away in a week or two. You'll need a prescription for this from your eye doctor.
Viral conjunctivitis looks a lot like the bacterial kind, and you get it in the same way. But keep in mind that antibiotics will not cure it, and in fact there is no cure you just have to wait until the symptoms go away. One good reason to visit an eye doctor is to find out whether you have viral conjunctivitis or bacterial conjunctivitis. Another is to get some prescription-strength eye drops that will make your eyes feel better, since both types cause pink eye symptoms of not only redness, but also itching, burning, and a nasty discharge.
Allergic conjunctivitis is the third main type of pink eye, and you get it when your eyes come into contact with something that severely irritates them, such as a chemical. The cure is to stay away from whatever the irritant is, but also you can get soothing eye drops from your eye doctor that will help the redness and other pink eye symptoms go away.
A stye is another kind of eye infection, but it is usually caused by bacteria that is already present in your body. (In fact, it's a type of bacteria that usually hangs out in your nose.) Again, you can prevent styes by keeping your hands and face clean and by not touching your eye or the area around it.
Styes are a kind of pimple that appears on your eyelid when a gland at the edge of your eyelid becomes infected. It might hurt a little, and the area could look red or pinkish, with some swelling. In a day or two the pimple will appear, and it will become larger until eventually it pops open and drains. Then the healing process will begin, and the stye should disappear in just a few days.
For most people, a stye occurs maybe once or twice at most. But for some, styes come back periodically. If this is happening to you or your child, talk to your eye doctor to see if you're doing everything possible to avoid recurrence.
Eye dryness is more of a symptom than an actual eye disease or condition. In fact, some of the eye infections described above are causes of dry eyes.
Chronic dry eye, which means that it happens over and over again, usually has a deeper cause. Called dry eye syndrome, this problem can make you miserable on a daily basis. Causes of chronically dry eyes are often environmental. For example, if you live in a dry climate, your tears may evaporate too fast, so they can't keep your eyes sufficiently lubricated. If your home or office is air-conditioned, then your eyes may be subjected to blasts of dry air that cause the burning, redness, and irritation of dry eye syndrome.
Another cause is not blinking enough. When you blink, your eyelids spread your tear film across your eyes, which moistens and lubricates the surface of your eyes. It is normal for human beings to blink every few seconds. But people who watch a lot of TV or work on a computer for long periods of time seem to "forget" to blink, perhaps because they are intensely interested by the images on the screen in front of them. They let a long time go by between blinks, and during that time, their tear layer evaporates, and they get dry eyes.
There are many treatments for dry eye syndrome, so don't despair if you have it. One is prescription-strength lubricating eye drops, which your eye doctor can provide. Another is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, which you would normally take in gel tablet form. For extremely dry eyes, punctal plugs are a good option. They are inserted by your eye doctor in your tear ducts, where they prevent your tears from draining out of your eyes. Eye ointments, used during sleep, are also effective for many people. Again, these are normally prescribed by your eye doctor.
When your eyes become irritated because they come into contact with something in the environment, such as pollen or dust, then you have eye allergies. Symptoms associated with eye allergies include redness of your eye and eyelid tissues, tearing, dry eyes, watery eyes, itchiness, scratchiness, a foreign body sensation such as a feeling that you have sand in your eyes, burning, and tired eyes.
With eye allergies, closing your eyes often feels better than keeping them open, because closing them stops the exposure to the irritating substance, and also your tears can help soothe your eyes.
Eye baths are a good idea for eye allergies, because washing your eyes in a special eye bath solution is a good way to flush out little pollen and dust particles or chemicals that are bothering you. Certain eye drops that are made especially for eye allergies are also a common treatment. They may be formulated with antihistamines, which can reduce your eyes' sensitivity to whatever is irritating them.
Often we notice chronically watery eyes in older people, and one reason for this is that they can actually result from dry eyes, which become more of a possibility as you age.
When your eyes are dry, sometimes the glands that produce the watery component of your tears start to work overtime, producing more of this watery substance than usual, in order to relieve the dryness. There may be more of this watery substance than is needed, as it is produced faster than it can evaporate or drain away. So if you find yourself starting to have watery eyes on a regular basis, see an eye doctor to check if you should be addressing this as a dry eye symptom.
When you have a tic in the eye, you may call it an eye twitch, but in reality it is your eyelid that is spasming, not your eye.
Some people find eye twitching extremely annoying and upsetting. They feel that everyone else is noticing it, and they can't control the movement. Normally, however, eye twitching is very small, subtle, and hard to see in another person.
There's no instant cure for eye twitching, but Botox injections do work for some people. (A problematic side effect of Botox in the eyelid, however, is that in relaxing the muscle it may also cause the skin and muscle to droop unattractively.) Stress and lack of sleep seem to cause eye twitching, so you could try relaxing more, and even get a lower-stress job or lifestyle if possible.
Usually an eye twitch is only temporary, but if it happens to you a lot, visit your eye doctor, who will likely have some suggestions about how to relax your eye muscles so they don't spasm so much.
Those weird little dark globules or strings that you see in front of your eyes sometimes are commonly called floaters in the eye, because they seem to float or glide back and forth. Are they harmful? And where do they come from?
Although eye floaters seem to be on the surface of your eye, they are actually deep inside, in the liquid that fills the back of your eyeball. Floaters are bits of that liquid that have turned into little gel clumps and strings, and what you are actually seeing in your field of vision are the shadows of those bits as they come between your retina and the light that is coming into your eye.
Floaters in the eye are quite normal, but if you see a lot of them at once or notice that they are increasing in number, then it's a very good idea to get yourself to your eye doctor to find out whether a serious event such as a retinal detachment has occurred. If it is not treated right away, a detached retina can result in partial or total blindness in the affected eye, so don't take it lightly.
You may not have heard of an ocular migraine, but if you have ever seen odd light flashes or zig-zag lines in your visual field for 10 or 20 minutes, you might have had one. An ocular migraine isn't like the headache version of a migraine. You don't feel pain in your head for which you need medication. Instead, you see some weird shimmers or blind spots, and then it's over.
What causes an ocular migraine? It varies from one person to another and may be related to changes in hormone levels or to certain medications. Blood flow to the brain seems to be interrupted in one or more spots, and the visual symptoms start then.
Most people who have an ocular migraine get over it quickly and seem to have no long-term effects. But it's important to talk to your eye doctor right away if you have one, because the symptoms of an ocular migraine can be similar to the symptoms of a detached retina, and you need to take care of a retinal detachment immediately.
The final eye problem we're discussing here sounds really serious, but actually, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is just a bit of blood that has collected underneath the white of your eye and is visible from the outside.
It does look scary after all, who wants to look in a mirror and see a blood spot in their eye? But usually a subconjunctival hemorrhage is just small blood vessels breaking and leaking, and it will go away on its own in just a few days.
The causes can be everyday ones, such as higher blood pressure from lifting something heavy, or sneezing, coughing, or vomiting. You might get a subconjunctival hemorrhage from trauma to the eye, such as being hit by someone or running into a tree branch. And blood thinning medications can be a cause.
If your eye hurts, then do see an eye doctor to make sure there's no significant damage. And be careful not to rub your eye, which may make the bleeding start again.