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Many people have minor eye problems, such as eye strain, 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 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:
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 31 weeks, whose birth weight was 1250 g (2.8 lb) or less, or who are at high risk for vision problems. 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 9 weeks after birth.footnote 1
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in adults and older children
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Symptoms of serious illness in a baby may include the following:
Many prescription and non-prescription medicines can cause eye problems or changes in vision. A few examples are:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
Symptoms of a stroke may include:
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Home treatment measures may give you some relief from your eye symptoms.
To learn how to use eyedrops and eye ointment, see:
For treatment information for these common eye problems, see the topics:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
If you wear contacts, be sure to remove your contacts when your eye problem starts.
Take good care of your eyes to prevent eye problems.
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 examinations 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 examinations 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. Do not let you child use laser pointers or laser toys. These can cause permanent eye damage if the laser is pointed at the eye. 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 Pink Eye.
For tips on how to prevent eye injuries, see the topic Eye Injuries.
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:
CitationsJefferies AL (2016). Retinopathy of prematurity: An update on screening and management. Paediatrics and Child Health, 21(2): 101–104. http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/retinopathy-of-prematurity-screening. Accessed June 1, 2016.
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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