Top of the pageCheck Your Symptoms

Topic Overview

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
eye.

Common eye problems

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:

  • Vision changes. These may include:
    • Trouble adjusting your vision when entering a
      dark room.
    • Trouble focusing on close or faraway
      objects.
    • Dark spots in the center of your vision
      field.
    • Lines or edges that appear wavy.
  • Eyelid problems, such as a
    stye or chalazion (a small, hard
    lump).
  • 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
    (photophobia).
  • Inability to see well at night (night blindness). A decrease in
    night vision may be caused by nearsightedness,
    cataracts,
    macular degeneration, or conditions that affect the
    retina.

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 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
parents. See
tips for spotting eye problems in your child.
The
first screening is recommended about 4 to 7 weeks after birth.footnote 1

Check your symptoms to decide if
and when you should see a doctor.

Health Tools

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.


Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.

Check Your Symptoms

Are you having eye or vision problems?
Yes
Eye or vision problems
No
Eye or vision problems
How old are you?
Less than 4 years
Less than 4 years
4 years or older
4 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Have you had an eye injury within the past week?
Yes
Eye injury within past week
No
Eye injury within past week
Could you be having symptoms of a stroke?
Yes
Symptoms of stroke
No
Symptoms of stroke
Have you had any new vision changes?
These could include vision loss, double vision, or new trouble seeing clearly.
Yes
New vision changes
No
New vision changes
Did you have a sudden loss of vision?
A loss of vision means that you cannot see out of the eye or out of some part of the eye. The vision in that area is gone.
Yes
Sudden vision loss
No
Sudden vision loss
Do you still have vision loss?
Yes
Vision loss still present
No
Vision loss still present
Did the vision loss occur within the past day?
Yes
Vision loss occurred in the past day
No
Vision loss occurred in the past day
Are you having trouble seeing?
This means you are having new problems reading ordinary print or seeing things at a distance.
Yes
Decreased vision
No
Decreased vision
Have you had double vision?
Yes
Double vision
No
Double vision
Are you seeing double now?
Yes
Double vision now present
No
Double vision now present
Did the double vision occur within the past day?
Yes
Double vision occurred in the past day
No
Double vision occurred in the past day
Do you have any eye pain?
Yes
Eye pain
No
Eye pain
How bad is the pain on a scale of 0 to 10, if 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine?
8 to 10: Severe pain
Severe eye pain
5 to 7: Moderate pain
Moderate eye pain
1 to 4: Mild pain
Mild eye pain
Do you have symptoms of a serious illness?
Yes
Symptoms of serious illness
No
Symptoms of serious illness
Does light make your eyes hurt?
Yes
Sensitivity to light
No
Sensitivity to light
Does the light hurt so much that you have trouble opening your eyes?
Yes
Hard to open eyes because of discomfort with light
No
Hard to open eyes because of discomfort with light
Have you noticed new floaters or an increasing number of floaters?
Floaters look like dark specks, strings, or cobwebs that float through the eye.
Yes
New or increasing floaters
No
New or increasing floaters
Was there a sudden shower of floaters?
Yes
Sudden shower of floaters
No
Sudden shower of floaters
Have you noticed flashes of light that are new or different from any you have had before?
Yes
Flashes of light
No
Flashes of light
Did the flashes of light start suddenly?
Yes
Sudden flashes of light
No
Sudden flashes of light
Does it feel like there is something in the eye?
This is worse than the eye feeling gritty or a little irritated. This actually may make it hard to keep the eye open.
Yes
Feels like something is in eye
No
Feels like something is in eye
Is it very hard or impossible to open the eye because of the discomfort?
Yes
Hard to open eye because of discomfort with feeling something in eye
No
Hard to open eye because of discomfort with feeling something in eye
Is there any redness in the part of the eye that’s usually white?
This does not include a blood spot on the eye.
Yes
Redness in part of eye that’s usually white
No
Redness in part of eye that’s usually white
Has the eye been red for more than 24 hours?
Yes
Eye red for more than 24 hours
No
Eye red for more than 24 hours
Do you think the eyelid or the skin around the eye may be infected?
Symptoms could include redness, pus, increasing pain, or a lot of swelling. (A small bump or pimple on the eyelid, called a stye, usually is not a problem.) You might also have a fever.
Yes
Symptoms of infection around eye
No
Symptoms of infection around eye
Do you think you may have a fever?
Yes
Possible fever
No
Possible fever
Do you have diabetes or a weakened immune system?
What weakens the immune system in an adult or older child may be different than in a young child or baby.
Yes
Diabetes or immune problem
No
Diabetes or immune problem
Is there any pus coming from the area around the eye (not from the eye itself)?
Yes
Pus from area around eye
No
Pus from area around eye
Is there any blood in the eye?
This includes blood spots on the surface of the eye.
Yes
Blood spot or blood in eye
No
Blood spot or blood in eye
Is there any blood in the colored part of the eye?
Blood that is only in the white part of the eye is usually not as serious as blood in the colored part of the eye.
Yes
Blood is in colored part of eye
No
Blood is in colored part of eye
Does the blood cover more than one-fourth of the white part of the eye?
Yes
Blood covers more than one-fourth of white of the eye
No
Blood covers more than one-fourth of white of the eye
Do you have a rash or any blisters near your eye?
Yes
Rash or blisters near eye
No
Rash or blisters near eye
Is there any pus or thick drainage coming from the eye (not from the skin around the eye)?
This does not include water or thin, watery drainage. Pus is thicker and may make the eyelids stick together.
Yes
Pus draining from eye
No
Pus draining from eye
Have you had this type of drainage for more than 24 hours?
Yes
Drainage for more than 24 hours
No
Drainage for more than 24 hours
Does the white of the eye look yellow?
Yes
White of eye looks yellow
No
White of eye looks yellow
Do you think that a medicine could be causing your eye problem?
Think about whether the problem started soon after you began using a new medicine or a higher dose of a medicine.
Yes
Medicine may be causing eye problem
No
Medicine may be causing eye problem
Do you have an eyelid problem?
This could be swelling, itching, or a bump in the eyelid.
Yes
Eyelid problem
No
Eyelid problem
Has the eyelid problem lasted for more than 2 days?
Yes
Eyelid problem for more than 2 days
No
Eyelid problem for more than 2 days
Are you having a contact lens problem?
Yes
Contact lens problem
No
Contact lens problem
Can you remove the contact lenses?
Yes
Able to remove contact lenses
No
Unable to remove contact lenses
Does removing the contact lenses make the eye problem better?
Yes
Removing contact lenses helps
No
Removing contact lenses helps
Has the size or shape of the pupil changed? (The pupil is the black center of the eye.)
Yes
Pupil changes
No
Pupil changes
Did the pupil changes occur during the past 2 days (48 hours)?
Yes
Pupil changes occurred during past 48 hours
No
Pupil changes occurred during past 48 hours
Are the eyes moving normally?
Examples of abnormal movement include the eyes not moving together or not looking in the same direction.
Yes
Eyes moving normally
No
Eyes not moving normally
Is the problem with the eyes’ movement a new problem that you have not noticed before?
Yes
Change in eye movement is new
No
Change in eye movement is new
Have you had eye problems for more than 2 weeks?
Yes
Eye problems for more than 2 weeks
No
Eye problems for more than 2 weeks

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older
    adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
    disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
    sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain
    medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
    worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery
    or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
    more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
    use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the
    symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
    concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
    You may need care sooner.

Pain in adults and older children

  • Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
    is so bad that you can’t stand it for more than a few hours, can’t sleep, and
    can’t do anything else except focus on the pain.
  • Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
    normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
    Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it’s severe when it’s
    there.
  • Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
    but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.

Pain in children under 3 years

It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.

  • Severe pain (8 to 10): The
    pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries
    constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or
    grimace.
  • Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is
    very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds
    when you try to comfort him or her.
  • Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds
    when you try to comfort him or her.

Symptoms of serious illness may
include:

  • A severe headache.
  • A stiff
    neck.
  • Mental changes, such as feeling confused or much less
    alert.
  • Extreme fatigue (to the point where it’s hard for you to
    function).
  • Shaking chills.

Symptoms of serious illness in a baby
may include the following:

  • The baby is limp and floppy like a rag doll.
  • The baby doesn’t respond at all to being held, touched, or talked
    to.
  • The baby is hard to wake up.

Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause eye
problems or changes in vision. A few examples are:

  • Antihistamines.
  • Some antidepressants
    (tricyclic antidepressants).
  • Erection
    medicines.
  • Medicines for bladder control problems
    (anticholinergics).
  • Medicines (called blood thinners) that prevent blood clots.
  • Any kind of medicine that you put in your eye.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
    and HIV/AIDS.
  • Long-term alcohol and drug
    problems.
  • Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
    of conditions.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
    cancer.
  • Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
    disease.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Not
    having a spleen.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in children are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle
    cell disease, and congenital heart disease.
  • Steroid medicines,
    which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Medicines taken
    after organ transplant.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
    cancer.
  • Not having a spleen.

Symptoms of a stroke may
include:

  • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis
    in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Sudden trouble speaking.
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
  • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
  • A sudden,
    severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
    and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t
    have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
    seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care
    sooner.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
    arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t have
    one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an
    ambulance unless:

    • You cannot travel safely either by driving
      yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area
      where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

Make an Appointment

Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
care.

  • Make an appointment to see your doctor in the
    next 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If appropriate, try home treatment while you
    are waiting for the appointment.
  • If symptoms get worse or you have
    any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need
emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Eye Injuries

Home Treatment

Home treatment measures may give
you some relief from your eye symptoms.

  • Rest your eye.
  • Don’t rub your
    eye.
  • If you wear contacts, take the contacts out to rest the
    eyes.
  • Use cold or warm compresses, whichever feels
    best.
  • Gently
    flush your eye with cool water.
  • Avoid bright lights or use dark
    glasses to protect the eye.
  • Nonprescription eyedrops, such as
    artificial tear solutions, such as Hypo Tears, may be used to moisten
    your eyes.

To learn how to use eyedrops and eye ointment, see:

Eye Problems: Using Eyedrops and Eye Ointment.

For treatment information for these common eye problems, see the topics:

Pinkeye.
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
treatment:

  • Vision changes occur, such as blurred vision,
    loss of vision, or double vision.
  • Pain or drainage does not get better.
  • Increased sensitivity to
    light (photophobia) develops.
  • You have blood in
    the eye.
  • Swelling or redness develops around the eye area
    (periorbital cellulitis).
  • Signs of infection are present.
  • Symptoms become more severe or
    frequent.

If you wear contacts, be sure to remove your
contacts when your eye problem starts.

Prevention

Take good care of your eyes to prevent
eye problems.

  • Injuries from
    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.
  • 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
    or play.
  • Get periodic vision checkups.
  • If you wear contact lenses, take good care of them.
    See caring for contact lenses.
  • Keep your
    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
called
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
sugar.

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. Do not let your 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
Pinkeye.

For tips on how to prevent eye
injuries, see the topic
Eye Injuries.

Preparing For Your Appointment

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:

  • What are your main symptoms? How long have you
    had your symptoms?
  • Do your symptoms affect one or both
    eyes?
  • Have you had this problem in the past? If so, do you know
    what caused the problem at that time? How was it treated?
  • Do you
    wear contact lenses or eyeglasses? Do you think the problem is because of your
    contacts?
  • Have you had any vision changes, pain in the eye, double
    vision, excessive tearing, or increased sensitivity to light?
  • Have
    you had any exposure to toxic fumes, chemicals, or smoke?
  • Does
    anyone in your family or at your workplace have an eye infection, such as
    drainage from the eye or red and swollen eyelids?
  • Do you have
    allergies, or are your eye symptoms occurring at certain times of the
    year?
  • What home treatment measures have you tried? Did they
    help?
  • What prescription or nonprescription medicines have you used?
    Did they help?
  • Have you recently traveled outside the
    country?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have any
    health risks?

References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Ophthalmology, et al. (2013). Screening examination of premature infants for retinopathy of prematurity. Pediatrics, 131(1): 189-195. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012.2996. Accessed April 20, 2016.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD – Pediatrics

Current as ofMarch 20, 2017