How do we Keep our Eyes Healthy?
Painful, watery, itchy or tired eyes can be the result of many different factors. The type of treatment needed depends on the cause of the eye problem. These factors may include the following:
- Allergies or Environmental Triggers
- Eyestrain or Stress
- Fatigue or Poor Sleeping Patterns
- Conjunctivitis or Infection in the Eye
- Insufficient Oxygen to the Cornea and Outer Eye Tissue
Allergies and Eyes
Most people associate allergies with sneezing, coughing or wheezing, and nasal discharge or “runny nose,” but the eyes are often affected by allergies. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, eye allergy symptoms can include: Itching, redness, burning and a clear, watery discharge.
Outdoor allergens, such as pollen from grass, flowers, trees and weeds can easily trigger eye allergy symptoms as well as indoor allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander, mildew and mold. Environmental irritants such as diesel exhaust and petroleum fumes, perfumes, and cigarette smoke also can cause the eyes to fatigue, burn and water.
Eye Strain and Overuse
Recent studies show that more than 9 out of 10 adults (93.3 percent) spend more than two hours each day using a computer or other digital device, with more than 6 in 10 adults (60.8 percent) spending five or more hours every day on digital devices. This is often referred to as “digital eye strain.”
Digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome is the physical discomfort felt after two or more hours in front of a digital screen. This would include desktop and laptop computers, tablets, e-readers and cell phones. The average person who does not sit in from of a digital screen will blink the eye about 18 times per minute. This natural blinking, lubricates the eyeball and prevents dry, itching or burning eyes. However, research shows that those who spend 2 or more hours staring at a digital screen, blink the eyes less often. This can result in dry, itchy or burning eyes.
Other causes of eye strain include excessive use of the eyes in any ongoing continuous activity that requires intense and unaltered focus in vision — such as extended amounts of driving, writing, or reading. Each of these activities can cause eye fatigue. Those who work long hours using their eyes, such as accountants, researchers, illustrators or artists, editors, writers are at high risk. Those who drive vehicles without frequent visual changes, such as a truck driver who drives long distance on many miles of road with no change in scenery are also susceptible to eye strain. Continuous use of the eyes without blinking or change in focus, causes the eyes to get less exercise and to strain the eyes.
Sleeping Disorders and Fatigue
When a person does not get enough sleep the eyes are dramatically affected. After a few sleepless nights, the skin around the eyes can turn an unhealthy brown, yellow or sallow color and often become puffy.
Chronic sleep loss can lead to lackluster skin, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes. The body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol which breaks down skin collagen. Collagen can help to maintain the elasticity and softness of the skin. Without adequate rest or sleep, the eyes cannot revive. Sleep, rest, or meditation is necessary to rejuvenate the eyes and maintain proper eye health. Those who do not get enough sleep may experience blurred vision, eye pain, dry eyes, watering or burning eyes, and in extreme cases, trouble focusing, clouded vision, double vision, and twitching of the eyelid or eyeball (myokymia). Myokymia can be very distracting and limit productivity. If a person has trouble sleeping, they should try gentle meditation exercises or napping throughout the day.
Conjunctivitis or Eye Infection
How does one know the difference between simple eye strain, allergies or an eye infection? Symptoms of an eye infection are more severe. Watery, burning, red and tired eyes caused by an allergic reaction, lack or sleep or eye strain, will generally improve or will be slightly relieved when the person rests or removes the known allergen(s) triggering the response.
Allergies can develop into conjunctivitis or eye infection if not properly treated. Untreated eye infection can be very serious and lead to vision impairment. According to the American Optometric Association, the symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
- A gritty feeling in one or both eyes
- Itching or burning sensation in one or both eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Discharge coming from one or both eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Pink discoloration to the whites of one or both eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
The American Optometric Association defines conjunctivitis as:
“Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye… While conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, sometimes it can develop into a more serious problem.”
The three major types of conjunctivitis are allergic, chemical, or infectious. Infectious conjunctivitis can be either viral or bacterial. A person can get staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria from their own skin or respiratory system and this bacteria can spread to the eye through touch, from insects, or from other people.
People can also develop bacterial conjunctivitis from poor hygiene habits, such as rubbing or touching the eyes with unclean hands or using old, contaminated eye makeup and facial lotions. For this reason, makeup application brushes should be cleaned regularly and old makeup should be discarded after about one year, depending on use. Application sponges should be washed after each use and thrown away after about one month. Most cleansers and lotions contain fatty acids and should be discarded after six months. Makeup contamination can occur at any time, because it is always in contact with the eyes, mouth and fingers, which are highly susceptible to germs. If something has changed color or has a strange smell, throw it away immediately.
Giant papillary conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the tissue underneath the eyelid. Those who wear soft contact lenses, can contract this infection from the bacteria on the contact lenses. The likelihood of contracting this infection is heightened during the allergy season.
Contagious viral upper respiratory infections, such as influenza or the common cold, are generally the causes of viral conjunctivitis. This is usually contracted through coughing or sneezing, and spreads from the mucus of the nose or mouth, onto the hands and into the eye.
Lack of Oxygen to the Eye
Lack of oxygen to the brain and the eye, such as what occurs in those with sleep apnea, heart failure, lung disease or other cardio-pulmonary, or neurological conditions, can cause eye strain and result in loss of vision due to the effects on the retina, choroid or optic nerve. Also at risk are pilots or cross country hikers, who become oxygen deprived. If someone is experiencing blurring vision, pain, or swelling or pressure behind the eyes, due to lack of oxygen, they should contact their doctors or trusted health practitioner. If an insufficient amount of oxygen is entering the bloodstream, the body will react rapidly. This deficit in oxygen is called hypoxia. The eye is usually the first body part to be affected by hypoxia. A person can recover when the body regains its normal oxygen supply. Hypoxia will progress to anoxia if left untreated. Anoxia is a complete lack of oxygen which results in permanent physical damage or death.
Contact lenses, in addition to being a trigger for bacterial infections (as written above), can decrease the supply of oxygen to the cornea when it is too tight, too thick or if worn too long. However, a soft contact lens known as silicon hydrogel is less likely to cause this problem, as it provides six times more oxygen to the eye than the traditional soft lens, but these lenses are more expensive. Those who are not practicing careful hygiene with their contact lenses or who wear their lenses too long, could experience symptoms such as clouded vision and red and painful eyes. If this occurs, the person should discontinue using contact lenses and consult a medical practitioner. They might be advised to use and ointments or drops to reduce swelling, tearing, and promote healing.
To prevent bacterial or viral eye infection and allergic or chemical eye strain or infection, simple preventative measure can be taken:
- Keep windows closed during high pollen periods; use air conditioning in your home and car.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently and especially after petting any animal.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes.
- Take frequent breaks if spending long hours using the eyes (writing, driving, reading, etc.)
- Use “mite-proof” bedding covers to limit exposure to dust mites, and a dehumidifier to control mold.
- Don’t touch your eyes with your hands.
- Drink plenty of water
- Change your towel and washcloth daily, and don’t share them with others.
- Discard eye cosmetics, particularly mascara.
- Get plenty of sleep, or try meditation or frequent naps to rest the eyes.
- Don’t use anyone else’s eye cosmetics or personal eye-care items.
- Follow your eye doctor’s instructions on proper contact lens care.
- Use specially designed computer eyewear such as anti-reflective, or AR, lens, or blue light-blocking lenses
Natural Treatments for Tired Eyes
There are several natural treatments that might be effective for tired eyes. However, if you suspect that you have a serious infection and experience no relief after making lifestyle changes, see a doctor or trusted healthcare professional for an examination, accurate diagnosis, medical advice and treatment.
- Tea has been an age-old remedy to soothe tired eyes. Boil some tea in a little water and let it cool. Dip 2 clean pieces of gauze into the cool tea and place one on each eye for 15 minutes. Make sure you keep dipping the gauze into the liquid as soon as it dries, and reapply as needed.
- For temporary relief of tired eyes, lie down, close your eyes, and place a cold washcloth (compress) over your eyes. Relax for about 15 or 20 minutes. Refresh the compress as needed.
- When seeking relief for computer eye strain, researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Industrial Health have found that lowering the computer monitor’s position (and the angle of your head) increases tear production and soothes tired eyes.
- Eye exercises and vision therapy can sometimes be very effective. Specially trained therapists or ophthalmologists might provide this.
- For tired eyes, wash them with cold water, several times a day. Rinsing the eyes with water has been found to be highly effective in soothing tired eyes.
- Herbal remedies such as eyebright and goldenseal have been known to be helpful (do not use goldenseal during pregnancy, or if you are allergic to ragweed).
- An effective homeopathic remedy might be Ruta graveolens. It is most likely to be helpful in cases of eyestrain where the eyes burn and water after long periods of eye use.
Prescription or Over the Counter Medications
Your health care practitioner or doctor might advise you to control some symptoms with nonprescription medications, sold over the counter or a prescription medication for infection. These might include
- Artificial tears
- Decongestant eyedrops (don’t use eyedrops for “red eye” longer than a week, or they can make things worse)
- Oral antihistamines (note that they may dry your eyes and make your symptoms worse)
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory prescription medication
- Antibiotic eye drops or eye cream prescription medication
However, the best way to prevent eye strain or eye infection and to ensure healthy eyes, is to live a healthy, responsible life. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, avoid alcohol, drink plenty of water, protect your eyes from sun, smoke, and eyestrain, and get regular eye checkups from your trusted doctor or health practitioner.
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This article is written by Jean Voice Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University. Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com. Images used in this article are free public domain from Pixabay.com or Publicdomainpictures.net Other images are credited.
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