5 Dangerous Eye Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore (and 3 You Shouldn’t Sweat)

Eye Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on August 9, 2013
Important eye issues to not ignore.

You’ve probably dealt with the occasional eye problem at some point in your life, especially if you wear contact lenses or glasses. But have you ever wondered whether a particular symptom is worth calling your eye doctor, or if you’re okay to take a wait-and-see (pun intended) approach?

RELATED: Top 5 Causes of Dry Eye 

Here are a few eye symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore:

Floaters.  A few stray floaters are not a big deal. But if you have a lot of floaters—“like seeing a flock of birds in the sky” as described by Dr. Uyen Tran, a cornea expert and ophthalmologist at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute in Nashville, Tenn.—it’s definitely time to visit your ophthalmologist and get a dilated eye exam. It’s possible that you may have a detached retina. “We tell them that they have to come in that day,” says Dr. Tran,

Flashing lights. If you see flashes of light in your peripheral vision, you may be experiencing the beginning of a retinal detachment.  Call your doctor to get an appointment as soon as possible.

Severe fogginess. If you feel like you’re peering through clouds, or even seeing rainbows in your vision, don’t wait to see an expert. Those symptoms, when experienced along with severe sensitivity to light and pain, can signal the development of an urgent form of glaucoma called angle closure glaucoma.  With this relatively rare form of glaucoma, the pressure in the eye rises rapidly. The Glaucoma Research Foundation notes that surgery is usually necessary to unblock the drainage canals in the eye so the fluid can drain, thus reducing the pressure.

Trauma to the eye.  Ophthalmologist Dr. Aisha Simjee, who practices at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., notes that patients can have complications from untreated eye trauma. “If an eye injury occurs, unless it is very minor, it should be checked immediately to minimize and prevent vision loss,” says Dr. Simjee.

Even a minor injury to the eye, like a slipped mascara wand, can cause a painful corneal abrasion. Dr. Tran notes that antibiotics may be necessary to prevent an infection from developing on top of the abrasion.

Sudden blackout.  Your vision goes dark for five, maybe 10 minutes and then returns.  Dr. Tran warns that it can happen to people with hypertension or other cardiovascular disease because the blood flow to the eye has been cut off. It should be considered an emergency. “If you have a blockage in your carotid artery and you don’t do anything, you could have a stroke,” she says.

And here are three problems you probably don’t need to sweat.

Twitchy eyelid.  This symptom is very annoying, but for the vast majority of cases, it’s totally harmless. Stress is the most common culprit of a twitchy eyelid, so if you’re grimly dealing with one, it might be time to employ some deep-breathing and other relaxation techniques.

Pink eye. Also known as conjunctivitis, pink eye is caused by a viral infection characterized by a clear watery discharge. “It’s very, very contagious,” says Dr. Tran. “It runs its course, but you are contagious for seven days from the onset.” There’s not much that you can do about it, except wait and perhaps use anti-inflammatory eye drops to help the symptoms.  Dr. Simjee notes that she sometimes prescribes antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.

Stye. A stye is a small lump along the edge of your eyelid caused by a swollen eyelash follicle. (Similar in appearance is a chalazion, which is an enlarged oil-producing gland in the eyelid.)  The best treatment is usually a warm compress—and time, since a stye usually goes away on its own. However, if it lasts more than a week, or your eyelid begins to swell around the stye, call your ophthalmologist.