Do you have watery, red, itchy eyes?
As brutal winter weather continues to grip many parts of the US, we just want to remind you to protect your eyes – see our post on Winter Weather and Your Eyes. But there are other conditions that can cause excessive tearing and itchy eyes.
While tears are an important element in clear vision and healthy eyes, helping to keep eyes moist, wash away foreign objects and spread nutrients across the eye; this is not the case if there are too many tears and they are accompanied by redness, discharge, puffiness and an itchy, burning sensation.
Here are three common causes you should be aware of:
1. Allergies – In the US, eye allergies affect one in five people. There are two types of eye allergies, seasonal that generally happen early spring to late fall, and perennial that occurs throughout the year. Triggers for seasonal allergies include airborne pollens from grasses, trees and weeds. Perennial triggers include dust mites, feathers, animal dander, cosmetics, perfumes and smoke.
The first thing you should do is limit your exposure to the allergens. This could include:
- Stay indoors when pollen count is highest, usually mid-morning or early evening.
- Close all windows and use air conditioning in both your home and car.
- Consider an air purifier for your home.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses to help shield your eyes from pollen.
- Limit exposure to dust mites by enclosing pillows, comforters, mattresses and seat cushions in allergen-impermeable covers.
- Have your pet spend as much time outside as possible, and keep it out of your bedroom – don’t let it share your bed.
- Clean floors with a damp mop – sweeping just stirs up the allergens.
- Don’t rub your eyes as it will likely make the symptoms worse. Try a cold compress instead.
- Remove your contact lenses and wear glasses during allergy season because the surface of the lens can attract and accumulate airborne allergens. If you must wear contacts, consider daily disposable contacts to avoid the build-up of allergens on your lens.
- Sterile saline rinses and eye lubricants.
- Oral antihistamines such as Claritin or Zyrtec.
- Eye drops can also provide relief. In most cases you can use over the counter (OTC) eye drops, but be aware that overuse of decongestant eye drops can cause a “rebound effect” where the situation could get worse. You are better off asking your doctor to recommend an OTC eye drop. However, if the problem persists or gets worse, you need to contact your eye doctor for prescriptions eye drops tailored to your needs. Here you can learn more about types of eye drops and how to successfully get them in your eyes.
2. Dry Eyes – It seems counterintuitive, but if your eyes feel dry and gritty your tear glands go into overproduction as a protective response. This can become even more of a problem as you age and your tear ducts tend to shrink. For more information on dry eye and treatment options see Dr. Arthur Epstein’s article on Dry Eye and Tear Dysfunction.
3. Blepharitis – Chronic blepharitis is generally caused by seborrheic dermatitis, an oil build-up because of excessive oil secretion. While this results in dandruff on your scalp, near the eyes it leads to eye irritation, redness, burning, itchy and dry eyes. The best treatment is to keep the eyelid area clean and free of discharge. This is done with the application of a warm compress to the outer eyelid and cleansing the eyelids with eyelid cleaner. If a bacterial infection occurs you will need your eye doctor to prescribe an antibiotic ointment.
Blepharitis doesn’t usually damage your eye or affect your vision, but if a bacterial infection is left untreated you can develop ulcerative blepharitis which can result in the loss of eyelashes, eyelid scarring and inflammation of the cornea. Eyelid hygiene is the key with treating blephartis.
These are just three causes of watery, red, itchy eyes. While most are not a serious threat to your vision, you can relieve the discomfort yourself through lifestyle choices, good hygiene and OTC options. However, if you have tried to manage on your own and the condition does not seem to improve within a week, or gets worse, you should contact your eye care professional immediately.
Susan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation