This guide was created to help you learn the types of eye disorders you may come across in your daily life. These guidelines are only an overview and definitely should not replace a consultation with your own eye doctor.
Typically, common eye disorders can be broken down into major eye symptoms, making it easier to sort them out and come up with specific guidelines.
Eyes can turn red for many reasons, including infection, inflammation, allergy, broken blood vessels and trauma (Injury). If the white of your eye looks red or pink, you might have one of the following conditions:
Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis): If the redness is from a form of pink eye known as conjunctivitis, you will also have other symptoms such as itching, burning or stinging, discharge, swelling, watering — or a combination of the above. Some forms of pinkeye are contagious, and some are not. Allergic conjunctivitis, for example, is not contagious. But viral and bacterial forms of pink eyes are contagious. So it’s best to see your eye doctor or family doctor for diagnosis and possible treatment.
Quick Tip: Avoid rubbing your eyes and make sure you wash your hands often. For relief, use cool, wet compresses on the outside of your closed eyelids.
Allergies : It can be seasonal (spring and fall), or they can happen when something irritating (allergen) invades your eyes, like cat dander, pollens, dust or fumes. You may have an eye allergy if your eyes rapidly become red, watery and puffy.
Quick Tip: Try cold, wet compresses on the outside of your closed eyelids. If the allergy continues to annoy you, you may need to see your eye doctor for a prescription to help you deal with symptoms.
Broken Blood Vessel (subconjunctival hemorrhage): Tiny blood vessels in the white of the eye can break from straining, lifting, rubbing or for no reason at all. They are referred as subconjunctival hemorrhage (bleeding), they are usually harmless and ordinarily aren’t considered an emergency.
Quick Tip: To be on the safe side, you should see your eye doctor within a day or two after noticing symptoms to make sure there’s no underlying cause for the broken vessel. Otherwise, there really is no treatment other than time for most of these blood leaks to get absorbed.
Eye Trauma. Getting hit in the eye can certainly cause redness, along with pain and blurred vision. The eye may be scratched or gouged, but there also could be hidden damage inside the eye, such as retinal detachment, that can be very serious and must be treated. Unless the hit is very light, an eye doctor should treat eye traumas right away.
- ITCHY EYES
Almost all eye itching is caused by some sort of allergy. Very often, mild itching can be helped with over-the-counter lubricating eye drops. You can avoid instant decongestants that take away redness immediately, as they can be addictive. More severe itching may need extra help, such as oral antihistamines or prescription eye drops.
Quick Tip: Try to avoid rubbing your eyes! Rubbing releases chemicals called histamines that actually make the itching worse. Try cold compress instead
- BLURRED VISION
If you have blurred vision that happens suddenly and persists, consider this an emergency. If one eye becomes blurry or goes dark suddenly, like a curtain coming down, this is an emergency and should be checked out by your eye doctor or an emergency room/urgent care center. This could indicate a retinal problem, like a detachment, or even a stroke.
If you have some minor blurring that comes and goes, this could mean tiredness, dryness or eye strain. Keep in mind that many eye conditions can cause some vision blur, including pink eye, allergies, dry eyes and even a lot of near vision work. Most of these would not be emergency situations.
Quick Tip: For mild blurry vision, try resting your eyes. If the blurry vision persists, make an appointment for an eye exam.
- EYE BURNING
Eye burning can be caused by allergy, dryness, tiredness, vision stress (like computer work) or a combination of the above. Try lubricating artificial tears eye drops and you should feel better. See your eye doctor if the burning persists, but this symptom is not usually an emergency.
- EYE PAIN
Eye pain can be sharp or dull, internal or external, constant or intermittent, stabbing or throbbing. As a general rule, if you have eye pain along with redness or blurred vision, you should consider this an emergency and either see your eye doctor or go to an emergency room or urgent care center right away.
Constant eye pain, especially when moving your eyes or gently pushing on your eyes, can sometimes indicate an inflammation of some of the inner eye parts. Occasionally, eye pain is caused by something serious, like Uveitis. This is an inflammation of the inner eye tissues, like the iris. Again, this type of condition should be treated as soon as possible.
- SPOTS, FLASHES AND FLOATERS
Many spots and floaters are normal. Most of these floaters are harmless … just annoying. You tend to see them against a lighted background, sky or white wall. However, some flashes and floaters can let you know something is happening to your retina (the inner back tissue of the eyeball). You can have vitreous detachments and/or retinal detachments, which must be diagnosed and treated.
As a general rule, if you have a few little dots, threads or “bugs” that come and go depending on how tired you are or what kind of lighting you’re in, these are normal floaters. But if you suddenly see flashes of light, clouds of floaters, swirly mists or a curtain over part of your vision, it’s best to see your eye doctor or an emergency room/urgent care center. They’ll dilate your pupils to see what’s going on inside your eyes and make sure it gets treated if need be.
Most retinal detachments can be helped if treated soon. If retinal detachments are ignored, however, they can lead to a loss of vision or even blindness.
Quick Tip: Most vitreous detachments creating spots and floaters just need to be watched. But you have no way of knowing whether you have a vitreous detachment or a far more serious retinal detachment. So in either case, make sure you see a doctor.
- FOREIGN OBJECTS (Something in the Eye)
Getting something in your eye seems like it should be an emergency, and it often is. Whether your eye is invaded by a piece of metal, a thorn or sticker or a sharp object, it’s critical that you see an eye doctor or an emergency room/urgent care center right away. Don’t rub your eye or attempt to remove whatever is in there, you could cause more damage.
Quick Tip: Not everything that gets in your eye is serious. We all have little bits of something in our eyes at times. If you know it’s just a piece of dust that’s irritating your eye, you can try rinsing it with saline solution or using lubricating eye drops. If none of these home remedies works, loosely tape a paper cup as a eye shield and seek for doctor’s help.
MBBS, MS, FRCS Glasgow.
Consultant Ophthalmologist, The City Hospital, DHCC, Dubai.