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Eye and Ear Problems

Eye Infections

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is an inflammation of the delicate membrane (conjunctiva) that lines the inside of the eyelid and the surface of the eye. Bacteria and viruses (which can be very contagious), allergies, pollution, or other irritants can cause pinkeye.

The symptoms of pinkeye are redness in the whites of the eyes, red and swollen eyelids, lots of tears, and a sandy feeling in the eyes. There may be a discharge that causes the eyelids to stick together during sleep.

Contact Lenses

If you wear contact lenses, these tips will help you avoid problems.

  • Follow the cleaning instructions for your lenses. Keep your lenses and anything that touches them (hands, storage containers, solution bottles, makeup) very clean. Wash your hands before handling your contacts.

  • Use a commercial saline solution. (Generic brands are just as good as name brands.) Homemade solution is easily contaminated with bacteria.

  • Insert your contacts before applying eye makeup. Do not apply makeup to the inner rim of the eyelid. Replace eye makeup every 3 to 6 months to reduce the risk of contamination.

  • When worn for long periods of time, extended-wear lenses are more likely to cause severe eye infections. If you choose to wear them, follow the wearing and cleaning schedule your eye care professional recommends.

  • Symptoms of a possible problem with your contacts include unusual redness, pain, or burning in the eye; discharge; blurred vision; or extreme sensitivity to light. Remove your lenses and disinfect them. If symptoms last longer than 2 to 3 hours after you remove your contacts, call your eye care professional.

  • Visit your eye care professional once a year to check the condition of your lenses and the health of your eyes.

Prevention

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  • Do not share towels, handkerchiefs, or washcloths with a person who has pinkeye.

  • If a chemical or object gets into your eye, immediately flush the eye with water. See Chemical Burns or See Objects in the Eye.

Home Treatment

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Although most cases of pinkeye will clear up on their own in 5 to 7 days, viral pinkeye can last many weeks. Pinkeye caused by allergies or pollution will last as long as you are exposed to the irritating substance. Good home care will speed healing and bring relief.

  • Apply cold or warm compresses several times a day to relieve discomfort.

  • Gently wipe the edge of the eyelid with moist cotton or a clean, wet washcloth to remove encrusted matter.

  • Don't wear contact lenses or eye makeup until the infection or inflammation is gone. Discard eye makeup after an eye infection.

  • If eyedrops are prescribed, insert them as follows:

    Inserting eyedrops

    • For older children and adults: Pull the lower lid down with 2 fingers to create a little pouch. Put the drops there. Close the eye for several minutes to let the drops move around.

    • For younger children: Ask the child to lie down with eyes closed. Put a drop in the inner corner of the eye. When the child opens the eye, the drop will run in.

    • Be sure the dropper is clean and does not touch the eye, eyelid, or the eyelashes.

  • Putting antibiotic ointment in the eye can be tricky, especially with children. If you can get it on the eyelashes, it will melt and get into the eye.

  • Make sure any nonprescription medicine you use is ophthalmic (for eyes), not otic (for ears).

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after treating pinkeye.

    Cataracts and Glaucoma

    Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens of the eye. They may cause vision problems such as cloudy, foggy, or filmy vision; glare from lamps, sunlight, or car headlights; and double vision. Cataracts are common in older adults.

    Glaucoma is an eye disorder that results when there is excess pressure in the eyeball. If the pressure is not relieved, the optic nerve may be damaged, causing blindness. Glaucoma rarely has symptoms and develops slowly over several years.

    Cataracts and glaucoma are easy to detect during routine eye exams. Both respond well to medical treatment. Talk with your doctor about the best schedule of eye exams for you, based on your age and risk factors for these eye problems.

    Call your health professional immediately if you have sudden blurry vision, loss of vision, or pain in the eye.

    If you are considering surgery to treat cataracts, gather as much information as possible about the risks and benefits of surgery. Getting all the facts and thinking about your own needs and values will help you work with your doctor to make a wise health decision.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If there is pain in the eye (rather than irritation), blurring, or loss of vision that is not cleared even momentarily by blinking.

    Eye Twitches

    Eye twitches or muscle spasms around the eye are most often associated with fatigue or stress. Twitches will usually stop on their own in a short time, and they will improve with rest or reduced stress.

    Call a health professional if twitches occur with redness, swelling, discharge from the eye, or fever, or if eye twitches last longer than 1 to 2 weeks.

  • If the eye is painfully sensitive to light.

  • If the skin around the eye or the eyelid is red.

  • If it feels like there is a foreign object in the eye.

  • If the eye is red and there is a greenish yellow discharge that does not begin to go away in 24 hours.

  • If there is an abnormal difference between the sizes of the pupils.

  • If symptoms of an eye infection last longer than 7 days.

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