How to treat 10 common eye ailments
Eyes may occupy only a small portion of the body's real estate, but they often seem to do a lion's share of the work. They allow us to take in the visual beauty of family, nature and culture, help guide us to our destinations and visually hook us up with our favorite digital devices. But when overworked and abused, the eyes often turn out to be the body's favorite punching bag.
If you've been guilty of mistreating the proverbial windows to your soul, here's how to give them the special treatment they deserve.
Sitting behind a desk in front of a computer can take its toll on your posture, but it also wreaks havoc on your eyes.
"Too much staring at the monitor results in a poor blink rate," says Dr. Robert A. Latkany, a board-certified ophthalmologist and founder and director of the Dry Eye Clinic at New York Eye & Ear Infirmary. "Not blinking enough causes dryness which, in turn, causes typical eye-strain symptoms like irritation and tiredness." Eye-muscle weakness, which is part of the aging process, can also induce eye strain.
Remedies, says Latkany, include taking adequate computer breaks, applying cold compresses and using OTC remedies, such as artificial tears.
Dry eyes is a condition which results from an abnormality in the coating that lines the cornea and can cause discomfort, dryness, irritation and pain, says Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, a board-certified allergist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine. The twist, he says, is that another symptom of dry eyes can be watery eyes, which happens when the eyes do not produce enough tears.
Older adults are especially prone to dry eyes, he says. So are people with a predisposition to dry eyes who later undergo laser-correction surgical procedures. Various oral medications may also increase eye dryness, thereby worsening the condition. The easiest remedy is OTC moisturizing eye drops, although prescription medication is sometimes required.
Eyes often pay the price after a person consumes too much alcohol. "Alcohol is dehydrating, which leads to waking up the next morning with puffiness and bloodshot eyes," says Latkany, author of The Dry Eye Remedy. People with the chronic skin condition rosacea - whose blood vessels are prone to dilate after consuming wine and spirits - are especially susceptible, he says.
The remedy is simple. Stop imbibing alcoholic beverages, rehydrate by drinking lots of water and apply cold compresses. Latkany advises caution when using OTC vaso-constricting eye drops, which may help relieve redness. "Many doctors do not recommend these products because of the potential toxicity of the preservatives they contain," he says, noting their effect is generally only temporary. "After getting rid of redness in the whites of the eyes, within a couple of hours these products often cause the eyes to become even redder than they were before," he says.
Eye puffiness may be one of the top signs you're not getting enough shut-eye. This telltale swelling of the eyelids and surrounding areas is often caused by fluid accumulation, says Bassett, who is also the medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York. Surprisingly, being dehydrated - either by not drinking enough water or taking medications that dry you out - increases puffiness, he adds.
Although many women use foundation and concealer to cover up the dark circles that result from reduced drainage under the eyes, Bassett says a better solution is applying cool compresses, rehydrating and getting more sleep. Switching from an on-your-back sleep position to a side position may also help improve fluid drainage around the eye, he says.
The symptoms of conjunctivitis - irritation, wateriness and an overall red-eyed look all resulting from inflammation of the inner part of the eyelid - are triggered by different causes, says Bassett.
One type of conjunctivitis is caused by infection from bacteria or viruses, another type is fueled by indoor or year-round allergies, and a third type is a result of seasonal allergies, he says, noting that the misery caused by the condition is the same, no matter the cause.
Although the symptoms of infectious conjunctivitis often go away without treatment, Bassett advises people to see an allergist to determine the specific cause of their condition and get correct treatment.
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids, typically at the site of the eyelash-hair follicles. "There is often a sensation of discomfort, which may include burning and irritation in the eyelids which are often red and swollen," says Bassett. "Some patients say they feel as though they have sand in their eyes when they blink. Even worse, the lids near the eyelashes often become crusty and the eye lashes may even fall out."
Research hasn't pinpointed why this condition - which often is tied to an overproduction of oil by the glands near the eyelid - occurs, says Bassett, who notes that it often manifests along with allergies or dandruff. However, the best remedy is good daily hygiene by cleaning the edges of the eyelid to help remove the excess oil. In more severe cases, he says, a physician may recommend a prescription eye medication.
Eyes often take a beating when a person is sensitive to certain cosmetics. "The symptoms are swelling, redness, irritation, itchiness and even scaliness on the eyelids which can resemble allergic-type eczema," says Bassett, noting that one of the most common makeup culprits is nail polish.
Because these symptoms often take several days to manifest, many women often don't connect them to the product they've been using. To determine the offending product, Bassett suggests seeing an allergist or dermatologist who can administer a patch test. Once you know the cause of your symptoms, the easiest remedy is to switch to a less irritating or more natural brand, he says.
Even the smallest speck of debris can adhere to the cornea and cause immense pain, redness and light sensitivity, says Latkany. The eye typically has a good drainage mechanism, which leads the irritant to flow to the inner corner of the eye for removal or through the nose for elimination.
However, he says, if within two hours the eye can't flush the item out, or if the item is stuck to the cornea, it's important to seek medical help. "Sometimes, a physician needs to use an instrument to flick the irritant, which might even be a piece of metal, off the cornea," says Latkany.
CONTACT LENS OVERUSE
Sleeping with your contact lenses puts you on the fast track to haggard, red and swollen eyes, says Latkany. "Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves certain types of contact lenses with greater oxygen permeability for continued overnight use, most ophthalmologists don't recommend overnight wear," he says.
The reason, he says, is studies show that people who sleep with their contact lenses in - even the FDA-approved ones - have 16 times the risk of infection than people who don't sleep with them. "Cosmetic color contact lenses, which are the least oxygen permeable, are the biggest culprits," he says, adding that the only remedy for oxygen-deprived cornea is reduced wear.