6 irritating eye conditions and how you can avoid them
From eating a balanced diet to getting a good night’s sleep, you already know about staying healthy. But what do you know about eye health? Beyond common refractive errors, like nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia), your eyes are at risk of catching viruses, infections, and other injuries, too. These may seem innocuous at first, but can be harmful if left untreated.
Keep reading to find out how you can do the right thing and look after your eyes.
What is pink eye and what are the symptoms?
Pink eye (scientific name: conjunctivitis) is quite common. If you’re wondering how pink eye got its nickname, it’s pretty obvious: This virus turns the white part (sclera) of the eye into a particularly vibrant shade of pink. The pinkish hue is the result of the blood vessels becoming inflamed, flaring up when aggravated either by bacteria or a foreign body entering the eye. While virtually anyone can catch pink eye, people working in public places—like schools, for example—should be especially cautious as this condition can be extremely contagious.
The three types of conjunctivitis are:
- Viral conjunctivitis: Unfortunately, conjunctivitis is so contagious that you’re likely to catch it at some point. It can be spread just by coughing or sneezing. One easy step in containing pink eye is covering your mouth when you expectorate (the fancy word for cough). Beyond the obvious symptoms—like your eye turning pink—you may also be perturbed by a sensation of severe itching. Lubricating drops may be a wise investment for all pink eye-sufferers. For the most part, this condition usually subsides on its own without any medical intervention. But, if you’ve got an event coming up and want to speed up the healing process, simply apply a cold, wet washcloth to the infected eye a few times a day. This helps soothe the itch, allowing for a speedy recovery from this irritating infection.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis: Without proper intervention, bacterial conjunctivitis can put your eyes at serious risk. This type of conjunctivitis manifests itself in other ways, too: notice a discharge forming in the corners of the eye? This may be bacterial conjunctivitis. When that discharge dries up, it can force the eyelids shut. This form of conjunctivitis can also be transferred easily; dirty, germy hands or items that have come into contact with the eye (like a mascara wand) are common carriers. Unfortunately, few home remedies can help ease the symptoms of this form of pink eye—medication and antibacterial drops prescribed by a doctor must be administered.
- Allergic conjunctivitis: Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by eye irritants, most often pollen, dust, or animal dander. Fortunately, this form of conjunctivitis isn’t as infectious as other types of conjunctivitis. The easiest way to cure it is by adhering to a strict eye drop regimen, or applying a cold compress to ease the itch.
When it comes to pink eye, we can’t blame you for wanting to expedite the healing process. It can be unbecoming. But before you perform any home remedies, be sure that you don’t need medical assistance. The type of conjunctivitis you’re afflicted with may be hard to detect without a doctor looking at it because each of the three types detailed above share similar symptoms. If the itching or redness worsens, contact your optometrist to avoid causing further harm to the eye.
A few tips on protecting yourself:
- Don’t share personal items like hand towels, tissues, or washcloths—especially those that come into close contact with eyes. To avoid contracting or spreading bacteria, wash your hands frequently. Never, ever share eye makeup.
- Be sure to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, especially in public spaces, like the bus. A good trick is sneezing into the crook of your elbow to control the trajectory of the germs.
- Carry hand sanitizer with you and use it often, especially after touching your eyes.
- Do you wear contact lenses daily? Keep them clean by using your lens solution properly. That means changing the liquid you store them in daily, and always washing your hands before inserting your lenses.
- This tip should be a bit obvious but don’t share colour contact lenses or special effect lenses with somebody else—this is an easy way to contract an infection. Even if you’ve washed them in solution and think they’re clean…they’re not clean enough to share.
- While pools can be refreshing come hot summer days, they’re also infested with germs. Swarms of bacteria are just waiting for a surface to latch onto, like your eyes. When swimming in pools, wearing goggles is a great way to keep those conjunctivitis-carrying microbes at bay.
The signs and symptoms of glaucoma, explained
Glaucoma is the second-most common cause of vision loss in Canadian seniors. More than 250,000 Canadians are afflicted by this condition every year. Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve (the nerve that transmits images and signals to the brain). This is due to an increase in intraocular pressure, meaning the pressure inside the eye.
While there are several types of glaucoma, two main types are the most common:
- Open-angle glaucoma gradually starts to appear. It’s hard to spot at first given that the symptoms appear slowly but surely. But once these become apparent, they’re hard to miss. Symptoms like hazy or blurred vision, an appearance of rainbow-like circles around bright lights, sudden sight loss, nausea or vomiting, and severe headaches or eye pain, can impact everyday living but can also eventually lead to blindness (if neglected over time). Regular eye exams are an important preventative measure in detecting the early signs of open-angle glaucoma.
- Closed-angle glaucoma happens when the iris (the coloured part of the eye) is close to the drainage angle. Think about it as if a piece of paper is sliding over a sink’s drain. The iris can end up blocking the drainage angle. Once it becomes completely blocked, eye pressure spikes—which is called an acute attack. This is serious, and must be treated at once to avoid it causing blindness. If you experience: sudden blurriness, severe eye pain, headaches, stomach-aches, nausea (including vomiting) or rainbow-coloured rings, then contact an optometrist at once.
With either of these two forms of glaucoma, symptoms might not become evident until it’s too late. You may be at risk if your parents or siblings have previously had the disease, if you have diabetes or have had cardiovascular disease. The risk of glaucoma also increases as you age.
Corneal bacterial infections, like staph and strep
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind considers staph and strep as serious eye conditions.
The two main types of bacteria that exist:
- Staph (staphylococuss) is a normal bacteria found on our eyelids. Approximately 20 to 30% of people are staph carriers.
- Strep (or streptococcus) is the same bacteria that forms in strep throat—but can also live in your eye (this usually arises when your eye comes into contact with an object that's been contaminated).
Some of the more obvious symptoms of staph or strep include a redness of the eye, itching, blurry vision, or a gooey discharge in the eyes. But if left untreated, these infections can cause permanent vision loss. If you suspect you have staph or strep, contact an eye doctor at once.
How can I tell if I have a corneal ulcer?
Have something in your eye? Look again: It could be a corneal ulcer (an open sore). The cornea is the clear layer that covers the eye. It is not immune to infection. For example, an ulcer can form on the surface of the eye. This condition, too, is usually caused by a virus or bacterial infection.
If you notice what looks like a small blister or sore in your eye, or if you feel extreme pain in the general eyeball area, then please treat it quickly as ignoring this type of infection may lead to blindness. Your eye doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics in the form of eye drops to help ease symptoms.
What is a pinguecula or pterygium?
Pinguecula (sometimes referred to as “surfer’s eye”) is a yellowish bump on the sclera (the white of the eye). These are most commonly caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun—why it’s called surfer’s eye. Frequent exposure to dust and wind may also put an individual at risk. Sometimes, even dry eye disease plays can cause pinguecula to form. Preventing this disease is simple: Simply slip on sunglasses, a hat, or anything else that shields the eye from the sun’s harmful UV rays, especially around noon to 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are at peak UV. And don’t think that cloud days can protect your eyes as the sun’s rays can penetrate clouds easily.
A pinguecula’s not-so-distant relative is the pterygium, which is essentially a growth of fleshy tissue that began life as a pinguecula. In time, this can grow large enough to cover the entire eye which can obstruct vision. So if you notice a pinguecula, treat it early so as to avoid any further complications.
Why is my eyelid puffy and swollen?
You’ll notice this particular eye condition by the appearance of one pretty obvious feature: eyelids look puffy, get inflamed, and feel sore. Sometimes, a mucus-like substance forms a crusty layer around the eyelashes. This is called blepharitis, and it occurs when bacteria finds a home on your eyelid. If you’ve touched a surface containing bacteria, such as a pole in the bus or a doorknob, and then touched your eyes before washing your hands, then this may be where you contracted it from. Otherwise, blepharitis may be a by-product of another eye condition called meibomian gland dysfunction, which impacts a specific type of gland (the meibomian gland) found in the eyelids. When these get blocked, they don’t secrete sufficient oil onto the eye to keep it lubricated. Not only does this condition cause blepharitis but it can also be a leading cause of dry eye syndrome. In some rare cases, parasites (eyelash mites) can lead to blepharitis.
Another thing to take note of is that blepharitis and dry eye syndrome tend to go hand-in-hand. The dry eye component is the late-stage manifestation of blepharitis. Otherwise, the bacteria can fasten to the lens of the eye, leading to more serious, harmful eye diseases. Once treated, you can return to wearing your contact lenses easily.
In order to treat this condition, there are some helpful things you can do at home:
- A warm compress, used in with a lid scrub (a liquid gentle enough to wash the eyelids) can help reduce the bacteria or mites on the eyelid. This quells the inflammation. Sometimes, products like eyelid cleansers or eyelid cleansing pads will be prescribed.
- In more severe cases, some treatment options exist to help curb the effects, including a lid margin debridement treatment, a thermal pulsation treatment, or an intense pulsed light treatment (all of which are administered by a medical professional only).
- If you wear contacts and think you have contracted blepharitis, it’s a good idea to take a break from wearing them.
- Finally, eye drops or ointments may be prescribed by the eye doctor to offer up a quick, effective solution.
Although blepharitis is a chronic eye condition, there are ways you can prevent it from getting even worse.
Here are some things that you can do:
- Clean your eyelids regularly. Before tucking yourself in every night, or when washing your face in the morning, there’s one extra step you can take: Wash your eyelids. Doing so is a great way to stop blepharitis right in its tracks as this eliminates the build-up of bacteria. All you need to do is dab a cotton swab over your eyes—either using just water or a gentle eye-cleaning ointment.
- Watch what you eat! That’s right—your diet can affect your eyesight, so be sure to do incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into the foods you eat so your meibomian glands are healthy. Some foods that contain omega-3s include dark leafy veggies (like kale or spinach) and fatty fish, like salmon or mackerel.
- Put a plug in it. Usually reserved for the most extreme of cases, an eye surgeon will insert what is known as a punctal plug into the eyes. This plug helps induce tear production, keeping eyes healthy and moist.
For your health...
While the above eye conditions sound icky and unpleasant, all can be (easily) prevented or treated. All you have to do is follow the guidelines we’ve laid out above, and you’ll enjoy healthy eyesight, which contributes to both your well-being and happiness.