27.03.2012

How the eyes can indicate health problems

How the eyes can indicate health problems

By Alexa Kaczka

Everybody will get an eye infection at some time in their life or suffer from some kind of vision complaint that can be cleared up by medicine, but for some people these problems never go away.

In this instance, their eye complaint may be telling them more than they know, as there are plenty of vision problems that are a symptom of an underlying, and often very serious, problem.

Writing in the health section of the Daily Mail recently, Angela Epstein highlighted how some innocuous problems can often be warning people that they need treatment.

She noted that red eyes indicate a cold sore, as viruses or localised infections can often cause the eye to redden, with the problem usually beginning in one eye, but sometimes spreading to both.
In some cases, the cold sore virus can infect the eye, causing inflammation, with other symptoms including a throbbing pain around the eye, sensitivity to light or watering.

If the eye turns a deep red and people have throbbing pain at the front, it could be a sign of inflammation of the iris, known as iritis or anterior uveitis.

As the writer explained: "This is triggered by an over-reaction of the immune system, though its exact cause isn’t known. The redness tends to start at the centre of the eye and spreads in a red ring around the centre within 24 to 48 hours. It doesn’t usually spread to the other eye."

Although treatment generally involves corticosteroid eye drops, if there is infection people may need antibiotics, she noted.

Persistent red blotches on the whites of both eyes could be a sign of high blood pressure, which causes the blood vessels to expand or even burst in some cases, and leaves red marks across the white of the eye.

Meanwhile, if one eye suddenly becomes red, Ms Epstein noted that it could be a subconjunctival haemorrhage, which involves blood leaking into the thin layer of skin at the front of the eyeball.

Although common in older people, this should often clear up within a few weeks, she pointed out.

Those who suffer from dry eyes frequently may have Sjogren’s syndrome, an auto-immune condition affecting around half a million people in the UK that causes the body to attack its own moisture-producing glands, and leading to abnormal dryness of the eyes.

"Other symptoms include extreme dry mouth and muscle fatigue. The slow-onset condition affects women more than men, and is typically diagnosed in your 40s and 50s. The symptoms can be eased with artificial tears," she explained.

Dry eyes could also be a sign of exposure keratitis, where the cornea becomes dry - a problem often caused by not closing the eyes properly during sleep.

Others could include injury to the eye or not blinking enough, which also leads to dryness of the cornea, though in both cases treatment with artificial tears should be sufficient.

Finally, itchy eyes may be a sign of Blepharitis, an irritation and infection of the skin of the inner eye lids which affects millions of people across the world.

Often, flakes appear on the eyelids which look like dandruff but are actually flakes of skin from the eyelid, Ms Epstein explained.

"It can be caused by a bacterial infection, but is also associated with rosacea, a skin condition which causes the face to redden," she noted.

In every case, it is best to be aware of the symptoms and, if they do not clear up within a few weeks, to consult a specialist who may be able to prescribe stronger treatment or refer them, to an eye specialist who can get to the bottom of the problem.

by Martin Burns


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