By Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless
I have a gritty, uncomfortable feeling in my eyes at times, associated with redness. It’s worse in the right eye and when I am in dusty or hot surroundings. There’s also a mild blurring of vision when I have these symptoms, but fortunately not very often. What could the problem be, and what should I do?
You are raising a very important issue—your eyes! Eyesight is such a precious gift, and we should not ignore eye-problem symptoms. It’s most important that whenever one has such symptoms, one should seek professional help. All too often people ignore these symptoms and use various eyedrops and over-the-counter treatments for eye discomfort, and serious conditions may be missed, resulting in grave consequences.
It’s particularly important to be cautious when the symptoms are present in one eye only. There may be a foreign body in the cornea or in the conjunctival areas (the whites of the eyes), and this can cause intense discomfort. If a foreign body is ignored, it can lead to infection and scarring of the cornea, resulting in permanent visual impairment. Another potential condition in which there is redness of one eye only is infection of the eye with a virus called herpes zoster—the same virus that causes chicken pox. The danger here is twofold. First, the diagnosis may be missed and cause significant pain and damage to the cornea. Second, well-meaning advisers may share their cortisone-containing eyedrops, which may have been prescribed for a completely different condition. Cortisone is a wonderful anti-inflammatory when appropriately used, but in undiagnosed herpes zoster eye infection it can accelerate damage and make the disease process worse. Other infections can cause redness of both eyes, and some infections are associated with a discharge from one or both eyes. These infections need to be adequately treated. Frequent hand washing and cleansing of the face are also helpful in preventing infections that may result from rubbing one’s eyes following contact with such infectious agents.
Of course, there are many conditions that lead to eye discomfort and the symptoms that you describe. Dryness of the eyes, for example, is one of the more common conditions. Our eyes are kept moist and the cornea sparkling and clear by the constant flow of tears. The tears also help to prevent infections by getting rid of bacteria and viruses.
Too little production of tears or too much evaporation of moisture surrounding the eyes may cause eye dryness; localized inflammatory processes can aggravate the condition. Hot weather outdoors during the summer (as well as indoor air-conditioning) and dry air indoors during the winter aggravate this condition. One of the ways in which the body copes is by increasing the rate of blinking in order to spread tears across the eye’s surface. Activities that decrease the rate at which we blink include working at the computer, watching television, or even driving a car. Age is another factor. Not only do the actual glands produce fewer tears as we get older, but the lower eyelids may sag and fail to form the appropriate seal around the eyeball. Autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis may also aggravate the condition. Prolonged wearing of contact lenses and medications such as antihistamines and beta-blockers may add to eye dryness. The commonly used Lasik surgery for correcting farsightedness or nearsightedness may also be associated with increased dryness of the eyes.
The first thing to do is to get professional help and assessment. It’s also very important to drink adequate amounts of water and wash one’s face thoroughly and regularly. Keep your hands clean, and try hard not to rub your eyes. Warm compresses applied to the eyes may also be helpful in those cases in which there is infection and inflammation around the eyelids (blepharitis).
Celebrate the gift of life and vision and keep your eyes single to the glory and honor of our gracious Creator!
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist,
is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist,
is an associate director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.