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Eye Problems, Noninjury

Overview

Many people have minor eye problems, such as eyestrain, irritated eyes, or itchy, scaly eyelids (blepharitis). These problems may be ongoing (chronic), but they usually aren't serious. Home treatment can relieve the symptoms of many minor eye problems.

Common eye problems

Common types of eye problems include:

  • Drainage from the eyes or too much tearing.
  • Watery eyes from hay fever or other seasonal allergies.
  • Eye strain or vision changes. Vision changes may happen gradually or suddenly. They include blurred vision and double vision.
  • Misaligned eyes or strabismus (sometimes called cross-eyes).
  • Blood in the white of the eye (subconjunctival hemorrhage).
  • Eyelid problems. These may be caused by irritation or infection. A stye is an example.
  • Contact lens problems. To avoid eye problems, be sure to follow the directions for cleaning and wearing contact lenses.
  • Color blindness .
  • Night blindness.
  • Glaucoma .
  • Cataracts .
  • Retinal problems, such as diabetic retinopathy.
  • Red eyes that may be caused by infection, inflammation, or tumors.
  • Uveitis .
  • Macular degeneration .
  • Papilledema .

It's fairly common for the eyes to be irritated or have a scratchy feeling. Pain isn't a common eye problem unless there has been an injury. It's not unusual for the eyes to be slightly sensitive to light. But sudden, painful sensitivity to light is a serious problem. It may be a sign of glaucoma or inflammation of the muscles that control the pupil (iritis). Have it checked by your doctor.

People often live with 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.

Vision changes

Sudden problems such as new vision changes, pain in the eye, or increased drainage are often more serious. They should be checked by a doctor. Eye symptoms that are new or that occur suddenly may be checked by an emergency medicine specialist.

Ongoing (chronic) eye problems that may be getting worse are usually checked by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist). A gradual change in your vision or chronic eye problems may include:

  • Vision changes, such as:
    • Trouble adjusting your vision when you enter a dark room.
    • Trouble focusing on close or faraway objects.
    • Dark spots in the center of your vision field.
    • Lines or edges that look wavy.
  • Eyelid problems, such as a stye or chalazion (a small, hard lump).
  • Discharge from or irritation of the eyeball or eyelids. Examples include an infection of the inner edge of the lower eyelid (dacryocystitis) and pinkeye (conjunctivitis).
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia).
  • Not being able 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.

Vision and age

As you reach your 40s and 50s, it's common to have some vision changes and maybe to need glasses. Some of the changes may also cause other symptoms, like headaches and nausea. These symptoms can affect your ability to function.

Some children may have special risks for eye problems. Vision screening is advised 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. The first screening is recommended about 4 to 9 weeks after birth.footnote 1

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

The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.

  • If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
  • If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
  • If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
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 sore on the eyeball?
Yes
Sore on eyeball
No
Sore on eyeball
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, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or 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.

Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.

Eye Injuries

Self-Care

Home treatment may give some relief from eye symptoms. If you are caring for a child who can't hold still, ask another adult for help if needed.

  • Rest your eyes.

    This includes taking out your contacts if you use them.

  • Don't rub your eyes.
  • Try cold or warm compresses.

    Use whichever feels the best.

  • Gently flush your eyes with water.

    Take out your contacts, if you use them. Put your face in a pan of water, or use a low pressure kitchen sink sprayer. Keep your eyes open.

  • Protect your eyes.

    Avoid bright lights and use dark glasses.

  • Moisten your eyes.

    If needed, use over-the-counter eyedrops, such as artificial tear solutions.

  • Use eyedrops or ointment if needed.

    Follow the directions on how to use them.

When to call for help during self-care

Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:

  • Vision changes, such as blurred vision, loss of vision, or double vision.
  • Pain or drainage that does not get better.
  • New blood in the eye.
  • New sensitivity to light.
  • New signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, pus, or a fever.
  • Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.

Learn more

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References

Citations

  1. Fierson WM, et al. (2018). Screening examination of premature infants for retinopathy of prematurity. Pediatrics, 142(6): e20183061. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-3061. Accessed January 4, 2019.

Credits

Current as of: January 24, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics

Research Health Topics

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