Seeing clearly? Reasons to get your eyes checked by a specialist
Changes to your sight aren't the only reason you might need to see an eye specialist
WE ALL know regular eye tests are important – but changes in your eyesight might not be the only reason for visiting an eye specialist. Anything from pain and irritation to excessively watery eyes could indicate a need to get things checked. Optometrist and leading dry eye specialist Sarah Farran talks us through some of the most common eye health symptoms.
1. Eye pain
It's not unusual for eyes to ache if you have a bad cold or sinus infection, or haven't been sleeping well – but pain limited to the eyes can occur too and it's best to get it checked.
"Pain in the eye can be associated with numerous causes, so it's important not to ignore it," says Sarah. "If the pain is mild, but presents regularly as irritation or discomfort, the most likely cause is dry eye disease/syndrome, or blepharitis which causes inflammation of the eyelids. If you're having day-to-day symptoms of redness, a gritty feeling in the eye and soreness, an optometrist is the best port of call. We can diagnose what's causing this everyday discomfort and put together a plan to treat and manage the symptoms."
In more rare cases, eye pain may indicate a more serious underlying cause.
"If your eye pain comes on with a vision problem, it could be more serious, and if it's localised to one eye, it could be even more serious still. A condition called optic neuritis can cause pain when you look around and usually lasts for a couple of days at a time. This can be associated with MS and usually presents with vision disturbances, like a change in how you perceive colours and blurred vision. It usually affects one eye at a time, though this isn't always the case, so it's important to get this checked by a GP."
And any sudden, severe eye pain and vision changes? Head to hospital.
"If the eye pain presents rapidly or feels extreme, A&E may be the best place to go," says Sarah.
2. Watery, irritated eyes
Despite the name, watery eyes are actually a key symptom of dry eye syndrome – a condition that's on the rise. "Dry eye disease can manifest in lots of ways, with the most common symptoms being redness, burning or stinging, blurred vision, a gritty sensation or even, paradoxically, excessively watery eyes. A lot of people confuse this with tiredness, so a good way to check is to stare straight ahead at something for as long as possible. If you feel discomfort, or need to blink before 10 seconds is up, it could be dry eye," says Sarah.
"While dry eyes can be a natural sign of ageing, there are also a whole host of environmental factors that can exacerbate the condition, such as cold weather and wind, along with some medications like oral antihistamines, or contact lenses. It's also becoming more common among younger people due to the time we spend on computers and screens (when we're concentrating we blink less, meaning the hydrating tears on the surface of the eye evaporate before we can replace them).
"If symptoms start to interfere with your daily life or cause regular discomfort, see an optometrist."
3. Bloodshot eyes
Hangovers and sleepless nights aside, are bloodshot eyes a cause for concern?
"Bloodshot eyes can be a normal sign of ageing or caused by eye fatigue, contact lens wear, allergies, computer vision syndrome or dry eye disease, all of which an optometrist can help with," says Sarah.
"If the redness is significant, it could be a sign of something more serious so shouldn't be ignored, especially if it's uncomfortable. Some of the most common culprits are infections like conjunctivitis. Iritis is inflammation of the iris and causes pain, light sensitivity and blurred vision. Conditions like arthritis in other parts of the body have been known to lead to iritis.
"Red eyes can also be indicative of serious issues such as corneal ulcers or ocular herpes, which can cause scarring on the eye."
4. Temporary visual disturbances
Strange, short-term changes in vision – possibly including partial or complete blindness for a brief period – might be due to ocular/retinal migraine, which can be very distressing.
"One in five people that suffer with migraines experience ocular migraines, so they are fairly common and usually cause vision problems in both eyes simultaneously," says Sarah.
"We often hear people describing shimmering effects, zigzag movements and coloured lights. These episodes can last up to half an hour and they usually subside by themselves, the best thing to do is just rest until it's better."
However, it's important to get symptoms properly checked.