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We all wake up with “eye gunk” in the morning. And we all have times when our eyes are red, itchy or irritated. Our eyes can tear when we’re out in the cold or get puffy after a good cry.
But how can you tell whether a color, swelling or other sensation is commonplace and nothing to worry about, or something you should get attention for immediately?
Here are six pretty common things that happen to your eyes, and what they might mean…
1. Burning or stinging
There are quite a few possible causes here. It could be as simple as a case of tired, irritated eyes, perhaps hay fever or dust allergy or exposure to smoke.
On the other hand, there are other possibilities that are of more concern. Burning eyes could be a sign of blepharitis, a buildup of bacteria that causes dandruff-like flakes on your eyelids, which get into your eyes and irritate them.
It could also indicate that your eyes aren’t making enough tears, known as dry eye, or a more serious condition known as keratitis (an inflamed cornea).
2. Crusty eyes
I used to call this “sleeping dust” when my children were little. Tears and oils dry and leave a sticky crust on your lids or lashes. A small amount is normal, but not if it’s yellow or greenish in color, which signals an infection.
Pinkeye is an infection that features extremely crusty, sticky eyes. It is highly contagious, so if you have a crusty eye that doesn’t go away with a good splash of water, it’s best to see your doctor and be sure not to share towels or other items that come in contact with your eye.
3. Dry, itchy eyes
Again, this could be due to a lot of computer use or other eye strain, an allergy, or just a sign of aging. Or, it could be something more serious. It could even be related to insufficiency of testosterone in your eyes oil glands.
Using moisturizing drops and a cold compress should help. (Don’t use drops for redness). If the problem persists, your doctor can help you find the cause and treat it. If the problem is testosterone, you could be prescribed testosterone cream for your eyelids.
4. A lump
A stye is a red, painful lump on your lashes or under your eyelid. Do not try to drain a stye yourself – you will only spread bacteria. A chalazion is a painless, swollen bump on your eyelid from a clogged oil gland.
In either case, soak a clean washcloth in warm water and hold it on our eye for 10 to 1 minutes, several times a day (a wet tea bag works well, too). If this doesn’t help in a few days, it’s time to see your doctor.
5. Yellow eyes
If the whites of your eyes are completely yellow, you should see your doctor right away. You most likely have jaundice, a liver disease caused by hepatitis, alcohol abuse, gallstones and sometimes by cancer.
Yellow spots are more likely to be growths of protein, fat or calcium (pinguecula) or of fleshy tissue (pterygium). They’re not of concern unless they bother you or interfere with your vision.
6. Different size pupils
Normally, your pupil (the dark spot in the center of your eye) widens and shrinks in response to light. But sometimes one pupil can appear to be stuck wide open (mydriasis) or small (miosis).
Nerve damage, migraines, medications, and eye surgery are some things that cause this. Also, if you’ve recently had a head injury, even a mild one, it could be the cause. Of course, it’s important to see your doctor after any type of head injury.
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