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Common eye problems

Know when to seek medical help

Red, itchy eyes? Blurry vision? Don't let common symptoms develop into something serious. Via Christi's eye care experts break down five common eye problems, tips for relief and when to seek medical help.

Remember to wear appropriate eyeware when playing sports or doing other activities. About 90 percent of eye injuries in sports or other activities could be prevented with protective eyewear, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Red and/or irritated eyes

Red, bloodshot eyes can be caused by various conditions, including an infection, allergies, broken vessels or trauma.

Pink eye

Pink eye or conjunctivitis is a common infection for both children and adults. Besides redness, symptoms include burning or stinging, itchiness, discharge, watering, swelling or a combination. Pink eye can be caused by bacteria, virus or allergies. A bacterial or viral conjunctivitis is contagious, but an allergic pink eye isn't. A common cause is the same virus that leads to the common cold.

To avoid further irritation or the spread of conjunctivitis, don't rub your eyes and wash your hands often. Cold compresses can help soothe eyes.

It's wise to see a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment, no matter what kind you have.

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions to irritants such as those in the air or animal dander can cause red, itchy, watery and puffy eyes.

Cold compresses or an oral antihistamine or both can provide relief. Over-the-counter eyedrops may provide additional relief. Don't rub your eyes because your body will release more histamine, a chemical that will make the itching worse.

For persistent allergies, you should consider visiting a doctor to discuss other treatment options.

Blood vessels

The tiny blood vessels in the whites of our eyes can break from lifting, straining or no reason at all. While the condition looks severe, it's generally  harmless. To ensure there is no serious, underlying cause, visit your doctor within a day or two of noticing the broken vessels.

Eye trauma

Eye trauma is always a cause for concern. Getting hit in the eye may not only cause redness, but can lead to further damage, such as a detached retina. Unless it was a light hit, see your eye doctor as soon as possible or seek emergency attention.

Blurred vision

Causes for blurry vision can range from eye strain to the start of cataracts to a detached retina.

For minor blurriness that comes and goes, your eyes may just be reacting to fatigue, eye strain, or dryness. But there are many other conditions that include blurry vision, such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and other diseases. If it persists, make an appointment with your eye doctor.

A quicker onset of blurred vision should be checked immediately by a medical professional. It can signal the beginning of a stroke, a detached retina or other medical conditions.

Spots and flashes

Specks in our vision, called spots or floaters, are caused by cells, proteins or other natural material in the gel-like matter in our eye causing shadows on our retina. When the vitreous gel pulls on the retina, you may see something like small lightning streaks or flashes. Generally, occasional floaters and flashes are normal as we age and there is no treatment, but you should make your eye doctor aware of the condition during an exam to ensure the symptoms aren't something more severe.

If you have a sudden onset of flashes and floaters, a sudden increase in the number and size, or a sudden loss of vision, call your eye doctor, particularly if you're older than 45 or had a head injury.

Dry eyes

Every time we blink, a film of tears washes over our eyes. Without that lubrication, we experience dry, irritated eyes. While it may seem unusual, a person with dry eyes can have excess tears spilling out of the eye.

A number of conditions can cause dry eyes: eye strain, blocked tear ducts, autoimmune diseases, hormonal changes and others. Other causes are irritants such as windy climates, air conditioning or a smoky environment.

Treatments can range from  artificial tears to prescription medication to surgery, depending on the cause. For persistent dry eyes, visit with a Via Christi eye care professional.

Something in your eye

A foreign object in your eye can be irritating. The severity of the situation will determine whether you see a doctor. A small piece of dust or dirt can be rinsed away with lubricating eye drops. For something more severe, such as a piece of metal or other debris, see a healthcare professional. Safety glasses in the workplace, when necessary, and at home can help prevent injuries when working with chemicals or on projects with potential flying debris, such as doing yard work.