General Eye Problems & Conditions
Here are common eye problems that more frequently cause people to schedule an exam with their optometrist or ophthalmologist:
Dry eye syndrome (dry eyes) is perhaps the most common cause of eye symptoms such as burning, stinging, contact lens discomfort and intermittent blurred vision. Dry eyes usually worsen with age and is one reason why many people stop wearing contact lenses as they get older.
Risk factors for dry eyes include:
- Working in a dry environment, such as an air conditioned office building
- Prolonged computer use, which decreases how often a person blinks, causing more tear evaporation
- Certain medications
If your eye doctor finds you have dry eyes, he or she probably will recommend frequent use of artificial tears and might prescribe medicated eye drops formulated to help you produce more tears.
In some cases, he or she might recommend insertion of tiny silicone "stoppers" (punctal plugs) in the tear drainage ducts of your eyelids to increase how long your tears stay on the surface of your eyes. This procedure is called punctal occlusion.
Your eye doctor might also recommend nutritional supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseed oil and fish oil to reduce your risk for dry eyes.
If you are bothered by red, itchy and watery eyes, you may have eye allergies.
Eye allergies usually are caused by a sensitivity something in the environment, such as pollen, dust or pet dander.
If you have eye allergies, your eye doctor might recommend artificial tears and eye washes to flush out pollen, dust particles or chemicals that are irritating your eyes. It's likely he or she also will prescribe medicated eye drops formulated to reduce allergy symptoms or make your eyes less prone to allergic reactions.
Conjunctivitis (or pink eye) is inflammation of the surface of the eye and the inner lining of the eyelids that is associated with either eye infections or allergies.
As its name suggests, the primary sign of pink eye is a reddening of the eyes. Conjunctivitis also causes eye discomfort, itching, watering, sensitivity to light, a foreign body sensation (the feeling something is in your eye) and a sticky, mucous-like discharge.
In most cases, the term pink eye (or pinkeye) is used to describe a highly infectious form of bacterial conjunctivitis common among children and adults in close contact with children, such as teachers.
Bacterial conjunctivitis typically causes a yellowish, mucous-like discharge, whereas viral and allergic conjunctivitis usually cause watery eyes and more intense itchiness.
Treatment of conjunctivitis depends on its most likely cause. Bacterial conjunctivitis typically is treated with anti-bacterial eye drops for a week or two.
If you have pink eye, avoid touching or rubbing your eyes and do not share hand towels or washcloths with others, which could spread the infection to them.
A subconjunctival hemorrhage is a usually harmless condition that sometimes is mistaken for pink eye. This condition is characterized by a painless, bright red eye spot on the "white" of the eye (sclera) that occurs suddenly.
Subconjunctival hemorrhages are caused by leaking of blood from of a small blood vessel on the surface of the eye. This blood then fans out under the thin clear coating (conjunctiva) that covers the sclera, causing a significant portion of the eye to turn bright red. In some cases, the entire sclera can appear red.
A subconjunctival hemorrhage looks scary, but the condition usually is harmless and typically resolves on its own in a matter of days or weeks.
Something as simple as a cough or sneeze can cause a tiny blood vessel on the eye to break, causing a subconjunctival hemorrhage. Trauma to the eye, significant physical exertion and vomiting are other common causes.
You may be more at risk for subconjunctival hemorrhages if you take certain medications such as blood thinners.
If you sustain eye trauma that causes a subconjunctival hemorrhage, see your eye doctor immediately to make sure other, more serious damage to your eye has not occurred, such as a retinal detachment or hyphema (bleeding inside the eye).
During recovery from a subconjunctival hemorrhage, avoid rubbing your eye—this might cause the bleeding to resume or worsen, lengthening the time it will take for your body to resorb the blood so your eye returns to its normal appearance.
Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelid that usually is associated with excessive bacteria on the lids, dry eyes, and/or a skin condition called rosacea.
There are two types of blepharitis:
- Anterior blepharitis - the inflammation is located primarily at the base of your eyelashes, and usually is associated with a bacterial infection.
- Posterior blepharitis - the inflammation occurs at the inner edges of your eyelids, affecting the Meibomian ("mee-BOW-mee-en") glands that produce the oily component of the tear film that reduces tear evaporation. Posterior blepharitis often is associated with dry eye syndrome.
Both types of blepharitis cause a reddening and puffiness of the eyelids, with symptoms that include itchiness, dryness, sensitivity to light and a foreign body sensation.
Treatment of blepharitis usually includes medicated eye drops and routine eyelid hygiene. Blepharitis should be treated promptly to avoid a serious infection of the front surface of the eye.
A stye is a kind of pimple that occurs on your eyelid when a gland at the edge of your eyelid becomes infected. Most eyelid styes are red, swollen and sensitive to touch.
In most cases, styes will rupture and heal on their own within a few days. Applying frequent warm compress to the eyelid often will help the process along.
You can reduce your risk for styes by avoiding touching or rubbing your eyelids, which transfers bacteria from your fingers to your lids and eyes.
If you have recurring styes, your eye doctor might recommend special eyelid scrubs and other measures to reduce the amount of bacteria on your lids and to keep your eyelid glands open.
A twitching eyelid is an annoying but harmless condition that typically goes away without treatment. Though it often is called is eye twitching, it is the eyelid, not your eye that is moving involuntarily. It is caused by an involuntary contractions or spasms of tiny muscles in your eyelid.
Though a twitching eyelid can make you feel self-conscious, the movement of the eyelid usually is subtle and not very noticeable to others.
The cause of eye twitching is unknown, but it's generally believed that stress and fatigue may play a role. If you have an eye twitch, try applying a cold compress to the eyelid to see if this resolves the twitching. Also, make sure you are getting plenty of rest and cut back on caffeinated drinks.
If eyelid twitching persists for more than a day or two, visit your eye doctor to discuss other treatment options.
Eye floaters are common visual phenomena that look like tiny bits of lint in your field of vision. They are called "floaters" because they seem to float or glide back and forth in front of your eyes.
Though floaters appear in front of you, they are caused by tiny bits of opaque material embedded in the clear, gel-like fluid (vitreous) that fills the back of the eye. When this material floats directly in front of the central part of the retina, it casts a shadow that your brain perceives as something floating in front of your eyes.
Vitreous floaters are normal and usually harmless. As the vitreous in your eye becomes more liquid with age, it's common to notice more floaters.
But if you notice a sudden onset or increase in severity of floater, this could be a symptom of a serious problem: a detached retina. If in doubt, see your eye doctor immediately. A detached retina is a medical emergency and must be treated promptly to avoid permanent vision loss.
Though not really an eye problem, an ocular migraine is another reason some people schedule an eye exam.
Unlike a migraine headache, an ocular migraine is not painful. Instead, symptoms include a sudden onset of visual disturbances, such as zig-zag lines or a blind spot in the center of your field of view. Generally, these disturbances last about 20 to 30 minutes.
An ocular migraine technically isn't an eye problem since the cause is a phenomenon that occurs in the brain, not the eyes.
People who have ocular migraines also can experience migraine headaches. Any time you experience an unexplained visual symptom, it's a good idea to call your optometrist or ophthalmologist and schedule a comprehensive eye exam to rule out serious eye problems.
If your eye doctor sees or suspects problems that are not eye-related, he or she will refer you to an appropriate physician for further evaluation.