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A Look at 6 Common Eye Issues

What certain symptoms can signal, and when to get help

We don’t think about our eyes too much, unless something odd or irritating happens to them.  

But good news: For the most part, even when something irksome happens, you don’t have to rush to the ER. You just have to make a few tweaks to your overall health or perhaps re-adjust your eye care routine.

We spoke with Carl Lambert, MD, a family medicine physician at Rush University Medical Center, about the signals your eyes may be trying to send you — and how to address them.

1. Your eye (or two) won’t stop twitching

Might be a sign of: Extreme fatigue

Most likely, if your eye is twitching, it’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down. Lambert says if a patient complains of a twitchy eye, he’ll ask them questions about their lifestyle. He'll usually discover the patient has been working nonstop, not sleeping well or super busy with their family and friends.

“The best advice I can give to patients is to take care of themselves,” Lambert says. “I recommend delegating more tasks at work or at home, get a better night’s sleep and eat a diet that’s full of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Those vitamins and minerals can help improve and strengthen how your eye muscles work.”

2. Your eyes are dry or itchy

Might be a sign of: Allergies

During the spring, summer and fall, Lambert sees lots of patients who complain of itchy, dry, watery or puffy eyes. Nothing to panic about, Lambert says — just blame the weather, seasonal changes or allergens (dust, mold or pet dander).

For a quick fix, he recommends over-the-counter eye drops with saline solution (as a lubricant to help your eyes produce tears, which helps with dryness) or medicated eye drops. Benadryl, Zyrtec or Claritin can also help alleviate dry or itchy eyes.

3. You feel like something dry or gritty is in your eye

Might be a sign of: A scratched cornea

The cornea is a protective barrier to your eye. If it’s scratched, you’ll feel sensitive to pain — and you might feel like something dry or gritty is in your eye, Lambert says.

“It’s important to see your eye doctor if you have this gritty/dry feeling in your eye because if your cornea gets scratched, you’ll be at a higher risk for infection,” he explains. Your doctor will put dye in your eye to check if the cornea is scratched. Then, he or she will give you an antibiotic for healing purposes.

4. Your contact lenses are irritating

Might be a sign of: Not taking care of them properly

For patients who wear contacts, Lambert shares these maintenance tips:

  • Never sleep in your contacts. Why? The contacts could become stuck to your eye, which could cause a tear the cornea, which is the outermost layer of the eye.
  • Don’t wear expired contacts because it could lead to an infection. If you have 30-day contacts, wear them for only 30 days.
  • Keep your fingernails short so you won’t risk scratching your cornea when you’re putting the lenses in or taking them out.

5. It’s hard to see at night

Might be a sign of: Lack of vitamin A

This is a complaint that Lambert frequently hears from his older patients, but it can happen to anyone.

One of the key causes of night vision issues: vitamin A deficiency. “Your retina needs keratin to work well, and if you’re depleted of vitamin A — which is known to improve eye health — it could be harder to see at night,” Lambert says.

He recommends adding vitamin A-rich foods like carrots, spinach, broccoli, cod liver oil and black-eyed peas to your next grocery list.

Don’t look at your phone at night, because the blue light that emits from your phone causes stress on your eye muscles.

6. Your eyes feel strained

Might be a sign of: Too much screen time

Your eyes might be getting stressed from all those screens. Even though screens play a big role in all of our lives (both at work and home), here are a few practical ways you can catch a break:

  • 20-20-20 rule: This helpful trick can reduce eye strain: Every twenty minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Computer usage tips: The Vision Council recommends taking frequent breaks from your computer screen, reducing overhead light to eliminate screen glare and positioning yourself at arm’s distance away from the computer screen.
  • Cell phone usage tips: Lambert tells patients to keep the phone at arm’s length, instead of holding it at eye-level. Increasing the font size on your phone can relieve eye strain. Also, don’t look at your phone at night, because the blue light that emits from your phone causes stress on your eye muscles.
  • Get special lenses for your glasses:  A lot of us wear glasses to correct vision problems, but regular eyeglasses are not the same as computer glasses. Computer reading glasses are specially made to help reduce eye strain because they have an anti-reflective coating to help reduce glare and a tint that helps increase contrast for easier viewing.

When to be concerned about your eyes

Sometimes, your eyes can reveal more serious health issues. If you notice these symptoms, get help right away:

  • Pus: This is whitish-yellow, yellow or brown-yellow fluid that drains from the eye. It can be a sign of an underlying infection to the eye, which can affect vision and often requires further evaluation by a physician, as well as antibiotics.
  • Jaundice: One common sign of an underlying health problem is yellow eyes, known as jaundice. There are many possible causes for yellow eyes, but most are related to problems with the gallbladder, liver or pancreas, which can cause excess amounts of a substance called bilirubin to collect in the blood and tissues if they are not functioning correctly.
  • Overly dilated pupils: Dilation, or widening, of the pupils of the eyes, is normal in conditions of low light to allow more light to reach the retina. However, injury to the brain and taking certain drugs are common causes of abnormally dilated pupils. If these symptoms persist, contact your physician.
  • Red eyes with pain: Sometimes eye redness can be associated with allergies, but if you have sudden red eye with pain and/or changes in vision, this is a medical emergency. This can sometimes be related to abnormally high pressures in the eye, known as glaucoma. It requires urgent treatment to prevent vision loss. 
  • Sudden onset of droopiness in one eye: Sudden droopiness in one eye can be related to several conditions. It requires medical attention as serious conditions — such as stroke — can cause this acutely. Additionally, other medical conditions can affect the function of the nerves and muscles that control eyelid mobility (such as multiple sclerosis or myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease).

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