Common Eye Conditions

Allergic Conjunctivitis

What is an eye allergy?

Many people experience eye irritation caused by substances in the environment called"allergens." Pollen, dust, animal dander, and ragweed are examples of allergens. In fact, the eye irritation can be an allergic reaction. Typical eye allergy symptoms are itching and redness or swollen, puffy eyelids. An eye allergy reaction can happen immediately after contact with an allergen or be delayed. Eye allergy also has a medical name: allergic conjunctivitis.

What are seasonal allergies and perennial allergies?

As the phrase implies, seasonal allergies occur only at certain times of the year and are usually triggered by the appearance of pollen from grasses, trees, and flowering plants. You can track the likelihood of your eye allergies acting up by following the pollen count (amount of pollen in the air) in your area. In some areas, the pollen counts peak during the spring and autumn. In other areas, there is always something in bloom.

Perennial allergies are always there, with no increase at a special time of year. Dust mites, mold, pet hair, and pet dander are examples of allergens that can cause perennial eye allergies.

How do allergens affect the eye?

Eye allergies flare up when allergens touch sensitive areas and set off chemical reactions within your body. Of the many symptoms, eye itching is a common complaint. Other common reactions include swollen, puffy eyelid, redness, a burning sensation, crusting of the lids, and watery eyes. Or your eyes may feel dry and gritty. Sensitivity to light is not uncommon.

Can eye allergies be prevented?

Controlling the source of the allergen is the most effective way to minimize or even eliminate eye allergies. You will want to reduce or eliminate contact with the items that irritate your eyes. For example:

Hint: when you eyes are itchy or your eyelids are swollen and puffy, avoid touching or rubbing them. This may worsen your symptoms instead of bringing relief.

What can a doctor do about eye allergies?

A doctor can confirm that your problem is eye allergies. A doctor may give you a prescription for an eye drop. Regular use of the eye drop will not only relieve your symptoms, but can actually prevent them from happening. A good eye drop works quickly, lasts a long time, and soothes your eyes immediately. Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.

Eye Foreign Body Symptoms

When to Seek Medical Vision Care

The most important aspect in deciding to seek medical attention has to do with your own evaluation of the severity of the injury. A few guidelines should be followed in deciding to have your eyes evaluated. If you do not meet these guidelines, but you are concerned that there may be significant damage, then it is always safer to be evaluated by your doctor.

Self-Care at Home

You should be able to care for minor debris in your eye at home. If you have trouble removing something in your eye or if a larger or sharper object is involved, you should seek medical attention. If you are wearing a contact lens, it should be removed prior to trying to remove the foreign body. Do not put the contact lens back into your eye until your eye is completely healed.

For minor foreign bodies, such as an eyelash, home care should be adequate.

Begin by rinsing your eye with a saline solution (the same solution used to rinse contact lenses). Tap water or distilled water may be used if no saline solution is available. Water will effectively flush out your eye, but the chlorine in most tap water can cause varying levels of irritation. How you wash out your eye is less important than getting it washed out with great amounts of water.

A water fountain makes a great eye wash. Just lean over the fountain, turn on the water, and keep your eye open.

At a sink, stand over the sink, cup your hands, and put your face into the running water.

Hold a glass of water to your eye and tip your head back. Do this many times.

If you are near a shower, get in and put your eye under the running water.

If you are working outside, a garden hose running at a very modest flow will work.

If washing out your eye is not successful, the object can usually be removed with the tip of a tissue or a cotton swab.

Pull back the eyelid by pulling down on the bottom edge of the lower lid or by pulling up on the upper edge of the upper lid.

Look up when evaluating for a foreign body under the lower lid.

Look down when evaluating for a foreign body under the upper lid. You will often need someone to help you in this case.

Be very careful not to scrape the tissue or the cotton swab across your cornea, the clear dome over the iris.

For larger foreign bodies or metal pieces, you should seek medical care, even if you are able to safely remove them at home.

If the foreign body is easily accessible and has not penetrated your eyeball, you may be able to remove it carefully with a cotton swab or a tissue.

If you have any question about penetration of the eye, do not remove the object without medical assistance.

If you cannot remove the object or if you continue to have the sensation that something is in your eye even after the debris is removed, you should seek medical care.

After the foreign body is removed, your eye may be red and tearing.

You may protect your eye by cutting the top part off of a Styrofoam or paper cup and placing the cup over your eye. If you place a cup over your eye, do not put any pressure on the injured eye, because it could cause additional injury to your eye.

This cup can be taped in place and will form a cover over your eye.

It is very important not to rub your eye or to apply any pressure to your eye. If you have punched a hole in your eye (called a ruptured globe or eyeball), you can do significant damage by pressing or rubbing your eye. This is especially true with small children who will rub their eyes to try to remove the debris.

Medical Treatment

For scratches on your cornea (called corneal abrasions), the usual treatment is an antibiotic ointment and/or antibiotic eyedrops and pain medicine. If the abrasion is large (greater than 50% of the corneal surface), then it may also be treated with a patch. Any noted damage to the iris, the lens, or the retina requires immediate evaluation by your eye doctor and may or may not require surgery.

A ruptured eyeball requires surgery by an ophthalmologist.

If no other injury is noted, hyphema (blood in between the cornea and the iris) requires close follow-up vision care with an ophthalmologist.