They say the eyes are the window to the soul – so what does it say about your soul if your peepers have turned an angry red, are twitching like crazy or feeling raw and sore?
"A healthy eye has a clear cornea (front window of the eye) and white non-inflamed coat (conjunctiva overlying sclera)", says Miss Elizabeth Hawkes, Consultant Ophthalmic and Oculoplastic Surgeon at the .
And if they're anything but, your eyes could be trying to tell you something about your health (aside from you need more sleep and to lay off the booze). From conjunctivitis to stroke, here's a breakdown of what your eye ailments could mean...
If your eyes are bloodshot...
Bloodshot eyes is a term used to describe the dilation of small blood vessels in the white part of the eye, or small haemorrhages originating from them.
"A ‘red eye’ can be due to many different causes such as allergy, infection, inflammation, raised intraocular pressure, blepharitis (inflamed eyelids) or dryness", says Miss Elizabeth Hawkes, Consultant Ophthalmic and Oculoplastic Surgeon at the .
If you have a persistent red eye, it is best to seek a specialist eye opinion to determine the exact cause and ensure you are treated in a prompt and correct manner.
"Some causes of red eye can be sight or life-threatening if they are incorrectly diagnosed or managed."
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If your eyes are yellowing...
Yellowing eyes is medically known as conjunctival icterus.
"It occurs when the conjunctiva has a yellow tinge secondary to raised systemic blood bilirubin levels", says Elizabeth. "Bilirubin is a yellow compound in the body, which is synthesised during the breakdown of red blood cells. It can be raised in certain conditions, often involving the liver."
"Interestingly, this is also the explanation as to why skin bruises turn a yellow colour as the blood is broken down by the body."
Again, it's best to seek an eye specialist to determine the reason for raised blood bilirubin levels.
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If your eyes are twitching...
Eye twitches are quite common and can indicate "not enough sleep, too much caffeine, tiredness, inflammation, or a neurological condition such as blepharospasm or hemifacial spasm", says Elizabeth.
"Botox can be used to treat some of these conditions" – most likely due to its ability to relax muscles.
If you're experiencing blurred vision...
Blurred vision is a serious symptom and should be treated as such.
"If you experience sudden blurred vision, you should make an appointment to see an ophthalmologist to establish the underlying cause", says Elizabeth.
"There are many reasons why vision can be blurred, which are beyond the scope of this article, but they include serious causes such as strokes and less serious causes such as dry eye."
But it's always best to err on the side of caution and have it checked out ASAP.
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If you're experiencing dry eye...
Dry eye disease is very common, affecting approximately 1 in 5 people, with occurances increasing with age.
The symptoms can include:
- Burning and gritty eyes
- A foreign body sensation
- Light sensitivity
- Swelling and puffy eyelids
- Excessive watering and stickiness
- Transient misty or blurred vision
- Permanent loss of eyelashes
"Dry eye is a reduction in the ability of the eye to produce or maintain adequate tears and we need tears to maintain good vision and to protect the eye", says Elizabeth.
"The main cause of dry eye is blepharitis, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the eyelids. The Meibomian Glands lie between our eyelashes, and secrete the oil outer layer of the tear film which is crucial for tear stability. Disruption to the function of these glands is the leading cause of dry eye."
Miss Hawkes' top tips for managing dry eyes and helping eyes cope with hay fever:
- Hot compress: Place a hot (shower/bath temperature) flannel or cotton pad onto the closed eye for three minutes, followed by a firm massage of the eyelids to unclog the Meibomian Glands.
- Remove makeup: Fully remove eye makeup at the end of the day to ensure the Meibomian Gland orifices remain open.
- Give your eyes a break from lenses: If you are a lens wearer, ensure you give your eyes a break by wearing glasses intermittently. Contact lenses can reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the front of your eyes and can increase dryness.
- Regular screen breaks: Using screens for long periods of time subconsciously reduces your blink rate and therefore exacerbate the symptoms of dry eye. A study of young and middle aged workers using computers suggested that dry eye can have a significant impact on patient wellbeing. There was an association of anxiety, depression and reduced sleep quality in patients with coexisting dry eye.
- Eat fish: A diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the symptoms of dry eye.
- Use eye drops: Lubricating eye drops are an excellent solution for managing dry eye symptoms. There are many different types available so it is best to consult an ophthalmologist to establish the cause of your dry eye and therefore establish the best lubricant for you.
- Stop smoking: Smokers are twice as likely to have Dry Eye Eyndrome than non-smokers. It can also lead to loss of vision and increase age-related eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.