Eye irritation is a common phenomenon. This is an umbrella term referring to uncomfortable feelings in the eye, namely itchiness, dryness, grittiness or pain.
There are many things that can lead to irritation. One of the commonest causes is an allergy, especially seasonal ones. Exposure to smoke, dust, chemical vapours, injuries to the eye from a foreign object (e.g., grit, sand, chemicals etc.), straining the eye after looking at an electronic display too long, i.e. digital eye strain, conditions like dry eye, infection, inflammation are all responsible for causing an irritated eye.
What can be the symptoms? Specific symptoms may depend upon the cause of irritation. But there are some general features, e.g. dryness in the eye, feeling of something in the eye or surrounding areas, redness, itchiness, and pain. Sometimes there may be blurred vision, swelling of the eyelid or tearing up of the eye.
There are several things we can do at home to try to alleviate the problem. It will depend on the thing that is causing irritation. However, we can always do some general things.
American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests that if there is sand or grit in the eye, the first thing we should do is try blinking it out. If that does not work, washing with saline water or running tap water could help flush the culprit.
If the eye gets hit by someone, a cold compress may be applied to reduce the pain and swelling. For a chemical splash, the first thing is to throw a copious amount of water into the eye and then seek emergency medical support.
For dry eyes, the main problem is a lack of tears. There are some artificial tears available in the market without prescription. They can be used according to the instructions provided with them.
Infections, such as conjunctivitis are often cited as the cause of eye irritation. For that Dr Amina Malik, an oculoplastic surgeon at Houston Methodist suggests trying a warm compress. This helps to improve circulation and remove the blockage of the glands. To avoid spreading the infection, people with conjunctivitis should frequently clean their hands and eyes and avoid touching the eyes constantly. While going out, covering the eyes with sunglasses is a good step.
We have a tendency to rub our eyes with our hands, especially when there is itching and irritation. This can result in the transfer of germs from hand to eye. Dr Mark Mifflin, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Utah strongly advised against it. According to the doctor, this will damage the eyes in the long run.
Maintaining good eye hygiene is also imperative to prevent eye irritation. This involves regular hand washing, using sunglasses or some other protection while going out in the sun.
Adding plenty of fruits and green vegetables to the diet is recommended, as this will provide the necessary vitamins for the eye.
Regular prevention of high cholesterol, diseases like diabetes by regular exercise can also help. Smoking is detrimental to our health, including eye health. So quitting smoking is something we must consider.
And for digital eye strain, we can always follow the 20-20-20 rule, i.e. every 20 minutes look away from your screen about 20 feet in front for 20 seconds.
A word of caution: if the irritation is severe, or it lasts more than a week or so, or there is a chemical splash, serious eye injury, severe pain etc. we must consult the physician.