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Search Health Information    Eye Problems, Noninjury

Eye Problems, Noninjury

Topic Overview

Many people have minor eye problems, such as eyestrain, irritated eyes, or itchy, scaly eyelids ( blepharitis ). These problems may be ongoing (chronic) but usually aren't serious. Home treatment can relieve the symptoms of many minor eye problems.

See a picture of the eye .

Common eye problems

Common types of eye problems include:

It is common for the eyes to be irritated or have a scratchy feeling. Pain is not a common eye problem unless there has been an injury. It is not unusual for the eyes to be slightly sensitive to light. But sudden, painful sensitivity to light is a serious problem that may mean glaucoma or inflammation of the muscles that control the pupil ( iritis ) and should be evaluated by your doctor.

Sudden problems such as new vision changes, pain in the eye, or increased drainage are often more serious and need to be evaluated by a doctor. Eye symptoms that are new or that occur suddenly may be evaluated by an emergency medicine specialist .

Ongoing (chronic) eye problems that may be worsening are usually evaluated by an eye doctor ( ophthalmologist ). A gradual change in your vision or chronic eye problems may include:

  • Vision changes. These may include:
    • Trouble adjusting your vision when entering a dark room.
    • Trouble focusing on close or faraway objects.
    • Dark spots in the center of your vision field.
    • Lines or edges that appear wavy.
  • Eyelid problems, such as a stye or chalazion (a small, hard lump).
  • Discharge or irritation of the eyeball or eyelids, such as an infection of the inner edge of the lower eyelid ( dacryocystitis ) or pinkeye ( conjunctivitis ).
  • Sensitivity to light ( photophobia ).
  • Inability to see well at night (night blindness). A decrease in night vision may be caused by nearsightedness, cataracts, macular degeneration, or conditions that affect the retina .

People often tolerate minor eye irritation and problems for a long time, until the irritation or problems become bothersome enough to seek care. People who have skin problems and allergies often have ongoing minor problems with the skin of their eyelids and allergic irritation of the eyes.

As you reach your 40s and 50s, it is common to have some vision changes and possibly to need glasses. Some of the changes may also cause other symptoms, like headaches and nausea, that affect your ability to function.

Some children may have special risks for eye problems. Vision screening is recommended for infants who were either born at or before 30 weeks, whose birth weight was below 3.3 lb (1500 g), or who have serious medical conditions. Most vision problems are noticed first by the parents. See tips for spotting eye problems in your child. The first screening is recommended about 4 to 7 weeks after birth. 1

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

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Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
  Eye Problems: Using Eyedrops and Eye Ointment

Check Your Symptoms

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Home Treatment

Home treatment measures may give you some relief from your eye symptoms.

  • Rest your eye.
  • Don't rub your eye.
  • If you wear contacts, take the contacts out to rest the eyes.
  • Use cold or warm compresses, whichever feels best.
  • Gently flush your eye with cool water.
  • Avoid bright lights or use dark glasses to protect the eye.
  • Nonprescription eyedrops, such as artificial tear solutions (Akwa Tears, Duratears, or HypoTears), may be used to moisten your eyes.

To learn how to use eyedrops and eye ointment, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Eye Problems: Using Eyedrops and Eye Ointment.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.

For treatment information for these common eye problems, see the topics:

Pinkeye.
Objects in the Eye.
Styes and Chalazia.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Vision changes occur, such as blurred vision, loss of vision, or double vision.
  • Pain or drainage does not get better. Be sure to remove your contacts when your eye problem starts.
  • Increased sensitivity to light ( photophobia ) develops.
  • You have blood in the eye.
  • Swelling or redness develops around the eye area (periorbital cellulitis).
  • Signs of infection are present.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.

Prevention

Take good care of your eyes to prevent eye problems.

  • Injuries from ultraviolet (UV) light can be prevented by wearing sunglasses that block UV rays and by wearing broad-brimmed hats. Be aware that the eye can be injured from sun glare during boating, sunbathing, or skiing. Use eye protection while you are under tanning lamps or using tanning booths. There is no proof that laser pointers cause eye injury.
  • Wear goggles or protective glasses when you are handling chemicals, operating power tools, hammering nails, or playing sports that involve a risk of a blow to the eye, such as racquetball or hockey.
  • Wear goggles or protective glasses at all times if you have only one functional eye.
  • Be a good example to your children by wearing goggles or protective glasses when needed at work or play.
  • Get periodic vision checkups.
  • If you wear contact lenses, take good care of them. See caring for contact lenses.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels that supply blood to the eye.

People who have diabetes are at risk for a vision problem called diabetic retinopathy , which is a complication of having high blood sugar over a long time. People who have diabetes need regular eye exams so that the early stages of diabetic retinopathy can be detected and in some cases treated. They also need to keep their blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible to prevent blood vessel damage from long-term high blood sugar.

It is important to protect your children's vision. Regular eye exams identify problems early, and corrective measures can be taken. Watching a lot of television, playing video games, or frequent computer use can decrease your child's natural blink reflex, which can cause dry, red, and irritated eyes. Most vision problems are noticed first by the parents. See tips for spotting eye problems in your child.

For tips on how to prevent eye infections, see the topic Pinkeye.

For tips on how to prevent eye injuries, see the topic Eye Injuries.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What are your main symptoms? How long have you had your symptoms?
  • Do your symptoms affect one or both eyes?
  • Have you had this problem in the past? If so, do you know what caused the problem at that time? How was it treated?
  • Do you wear contact lenses or eyeglasses? Do you think the problem is because of your contacts?
  • Have you had any vision changes, pain in the eye, double vision, excessive tearing, or increased sensitivity to light?
  • Have you had any exposure to toxic fumes, chemicals, or smoke?
  • Does anyone in your family or at your workplace have an eye infection, such as drainage from the eye or red and swollen eyelids?
  • Do you have allergies, or are your eye symptoms occurring at certain times of the year?
  • What home treatment measures have you tried? Did they help?
  • What prescription or nonprescription medicines have you used? Did they help?
  • Have you recently traveled outside the country?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have any health risks?

References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Ophthalmology, et al. (2006). Screening examination of premature infants for retinopathy of prematurity. Pediatrics, 117(2): 572–576. [Errata in Pediatrics, 117(4): 1468 and Pediatrics, 118(3): 1324.]

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised May 4, 2012

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