In recent times, a certain dress has been making the rounds on social media; a blue and black dress was suddenly being seen as white and gold by close to half the population. Ophthalmologists have explained this disagreement is due to an innocuous inherent difference in the way parts of our eyes function. This is nothing to worry about, and I have told so to the countless number of patients and friends who have expressed the concern. However, there are eye symptoms we need to be worried about.
Like with almost everything else concerning our bodies, people erroneously think “if it doesn’t hurt [in the eye], it’s probably nothing”, or it is “kookoo”. The eye is a peculiar organ considering that apart from illnesses specific to it, there are many conditions in the body that can manifest with symptoms in the eye (e.g. diabetes, thyroid disease, immune disorders and liver disease). This is why the eye is considered by some scientists to be the most important organ when it comes to clinical diagnoses. Some seemingly harmless symptoms in the eyes can be incipient disasters and it is important to take all of them serious.
Red eyes- A red eye is one of the commonest symptoms of eye disease. It is commonly called “pink eye” when it is caused by a viral or bacterial infection of the clear coverings of the eye. It may also be a symptom of eye irritation or allergy and can result from trauma to the eye, rupture the minute vessels in the eye or eye strain. The spectrum of causes of red eyes is broad and a quick trip to the doctor can save a lot of discomfort or damage.
Eye discharge- A small speck in the corner of the eye in the morning is not abnormal. However, profuse yellowish or cream-colored discharge is a symptom of an eye infection. Usually it is associated with pain. Where the infection goes unchecked for long, it may spread to involve the tissues around the eye, which can be fatal, especially in children. It may also lead to blindness, if it is a case of long-standing Trachoma infection. These infections are very contagious and to prevent spread, one must remember to wash the hands and face regularly. Also seek prompt medical attention.
Swellings and growths- This is what a lot of folks refer to as “kookoo”. A variety of swellings or growths may be seen in the eye. Some occur on the white of the eye, others in the corners of the eye. They may also occur at the base of the eye lashes or within the eyelids. The specific diagnosis depends on the site and nature of the swelling. Some of these swellings and growths may be considered harmless until they creep into the field of vision. Your doctor may prescribe medication, suggest surgery or allow the growth to be, depending on the specific diagnosis.
Spots and flashes in vision- It is not abnormal, particularly in the elderly, to occasionally see spots and floating objects in the vision. These are caused by strands of proteins in the gelatinous fluid in the eyeball. However, if these spots are associated with flashes of light or occurs with partial visual loss as though a curtain has been drawn down in the path of vision, it suggests a serious problem like a detachment of the retina (the thin sheet of cells at the back of the eyes where images are formed) or even a stroke. This is an emergency and thus requires immediate medical attention.
Cloudy vision- This may be observed as a haze over images. Cloudy vision is typically seen in cataract, in which there is a loss of transparency of the lens in the eye. Less common causes of cloudy vision include diabetes (when the level of sugar in the eye is too high) and optic nerve disease. Cloudy vision may also occur when you have an eye infection or in cases of excessive tearing.
Blurring of images- some people experience this when objects are near, while for others, it occurs when objects are far. In such cases, a refractive error is to be blamed and wearing appropriate lenses (prescribed by your optician) will solve the problem. It may also occur as a side effect of certain drugs, but this is short lived or resolves when the offending agent is withdrawn. However, when it is of sudden onset, blurring of images may mean something more sinister, like a retinal detachment. Some also experience it as a precursor to a migraine.
Apart from the ones mentioned, a professional opinion should be sought for all abnormalities of the eye. Pain and blindness are not the only eye symptoms that warrant our concern. If you’ve been putting off seeing your eye doctor for long, I guess it’s time you did.