Many people have minor eye problems, such as eyestrain, 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
Common eye problems
Common types of eye problems
Drainage from the eyes or excessive tearing.
Misaligned eyes or
strabismus (sometimes called cross-eyes).
Blood in the white of the eye (subconjunctival hemorrhage).
Contact lens problems.
Retinal problems, such as
Red eyes that may be
caused by infection, inflammation, or tumors.
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
Vision changes. These may include:
Trouble adjusting your vision when entering a
Trouble focusing on close or faraway
Dark spots in the center of your vision
Lines or edges that appear wavy.
Eyelid problems, such as a
stye or chalazion (a small, hard
Discharge or irritation of the eyeball or eyelids, such as
an infection of the inner edge of the lower eyelid (dacryocystitis)
or pinkeye (conjunctivitis).
Sensitivity to light
Inability to see well at night (night blindness). A decrease in
night vision may be caused by nearsightedness,
macular degeneration, or conditions that affect the
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
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
Some children may have
special risks for eye problems. Vision screening is recommended for infants who
were either born at or before 30 weeks, whose birth weight was below
3.3 lb (1500 g), or who have
serious medical conditions. Most vision problems are noticed first by the
tips for spotting eye problems in your child. The
first screening is recommended about 4 to 7 weeks after birth.1
Check your symptoms to decide if
and when you should see a doctor.
Home treatment measures may give
you some relief from your eye symptoms.
Rest your eye.
Don't rub your
If you wear contacts, take the contacts out to rest the
Use cold or warm compresses, whichever feels
flush your eye with cool water.
Avoid bright lights or use dark
glasses to protect the eye.
Nonprescription eyedrops, such as
artificial tear solutions (Akwa Tears,
Duratears, or HypoTears), may be used to moisten
To learn how to use eyedrops and eye ointment, see:
Eye Problems: Using Eyedrops and Eye Ointment.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Acetaminophen, such as
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
Ibuprofen, such as Advil or
Naproxen, such as Aleve or Naprosyn
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
Do not take more than the
Do not take a medicine if you have had an
allergic reaction to it in the past.
you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take
If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other
than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
For treatment information for these common eye problems, see the topics:
Objects in the Eye.
Styes and Chalazia.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
Vision changes occur, such as blurred vision,
loss of vision, or double vision.
Pain or drainage does not get better. Be sure to remove your
contacts when your eye problem starts.
Increased sensitivity to
light (photophobia) develops.
You have blood in
Swelling or redness develops around the eye area
Take good care of your eyes to prevent
ultraviolet (UV) light can be prevented by wearing
sunglasses that block UV rays and by wearing broad-brimmed hats. Be aware that
the eye can be injured from sun glare during boating, sunbathing, or skiing. Use
eye protection while you are under tanning lamps or using tanning booths. There
is no proof that laser pointers cause eye injury.
Wear goggles or
protective glasses when you are handling chemicals, operating power tools,
hammering nails, or playing sports that involve a risk of a blow to the eye,
such as racquetball or hockey.
Wear goggles or protective glasses
at all times if you have only one functional eye.
Be a good example
to your children by wearing goggles or protective glasses when needed at work
Get periodic vision checkups.
If you wear contact lenses, take good care of them.
See caring for contact lenses.
blood pressure under control. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels
that supply blood to the eye.
People who have diabetes are at risk for a vision problem
diabetic retinopathy, which is a complication of
having high blood sugar over a long time. People who have diabetes need regular
eye exams 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
It is important to protect your children's vision. Regular
eye exams 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. 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
For tips on how to prevent eye
injuries, see the topic
American Academy of Pediatrics Section on
Ophthalmology, et al. (2006). Screening examination of premature infants for
retinopathy of prematurity. Pediatrics, 117(2): 572–576.
[Errata in Pediatrics, 117(4): 1468 and Pediatrics,
Last Revised: May 4, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine