In most cases, the occasional twitch or redness in the eyes is nothing to be concerned about. But how do you know when your eye symptoms are just a transient annoyance, and when they could be signaling something more serious?
Ophthalmologists Dr. Jennifer Yu and Dr. Lisa Olmos de Koo of the Eye Institute at Harborview Medical Center and the Karalis Johnson Retina Center at South Lake Union spoke to UW Medicine about the eye symptoms you should never ignore, and knowing them could one day save your sight!
Pain is our body’s way of flashing a red flag. According to Yu, if your eye pain comes on suddenly, is severe, or lasts for more than a minute or two, see an ophthalmologist to check for infection, inflammation, or injury.
“It’s not always easy for someone to assess the degree of injury to their own eye. And it’s not only the trauma to your eye that can be a problem but subsequent swelling, bleeding or infection,” says Olmos de Koo.
Blurriness can most commonly be blamed on “dry eye,” which can result from certain medications such as antihistamines, environmental factors like wind or smoke, prolonged use of contact lenses, or hormone changes.
But Yu emphasises the importance of visiting your doctor if lubricating eye drops don’t do the trick, as changes in vision could be a sign of a more serious condition, like gestational diabetes in pregnant women, high blood pressure, or inflammation of the optic nerve or spinal cord.
Burning or gritty feeling
Sometimes, these sensations in the eye can be caused by lack of sleep, smoke in the air, allergies or dry eye, in which case eye drops should be all you need to feel better.
“But if you suspect an object in your eye is causing the irritation, go to an ophthalmologist. Don’t get anywhere near your eyeball with a pair of tweezers,” says Olmos do Koo.
Other causes include oil gland blockages in the eyelashes, and even mites — so be sure to visit an ophthalmologist if your eyes still feel gritty after a few weeks.
If you are experiencing allergies or are overly fatigued, the blood vessels in your eye might dilate and become more visible.
If your eye is red, but you are not experiencing any pain or other symptoms, there is most likely nothing to be worried about, says Yu — even if your eye turns bright red, which can result from small blood vessel breakage.
“It looks alarming, but it’s not. In essence, it’s just a bruise,” she says.
But when should you seek medical help? According to UW Medicine, when redness is accompanied by pain, burning, blurred vision, discharge or any other new symptom, call a doctor right away to rule out infection.
What’s tricky about double vision is that its causes range from ‘no big deal’ to serious. UW Medicine says that to help determine whether it’s time to call a doctor, simply try closing one eye.
If your double vision goes away, the cause might be a neurological problem, and you should immediately go to an ophthalmologist or emergency room for testing.
When closing one eye doesn’t fix things, it’s likely a result of dry eye or a cataract. In this case, it is still recommended that you make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. For more on eye issues and care, visit www.uwmedicine.org.