The most common causes of eye discomfort and the drug-free home treatments that provide the best relief
They say our eyes are the windows to our soul. They reflect our emotional state and convey words that otherwise fail to escape from our mouths. We only get one pair in our lifetime, and that’s why we have to provide them with the best care.
But in this digital age, more and more people are spending time on their mobile and staring at computer screens, resulting in higher risks of eye strain and other vision problems.
If you’re often a victim of swollen, puffy and dry eyes, today’s your lucky day. Read on (hopefully, without squinting) as we look at the common causes of eye discomfort and the home treatments available to soothe them.
Puffy or swollen eyes?
Almost the same in appearance and often referenced interchangeably, the main difference between puffy and swollen eyes is that the former is usually a cosmetic issue, while the latter often has accompanying symptoms, indicating more serious health problems.
Puffy eyes often occur for the following reasons:
- Fluid retention or overconsumption of salt
- Lack of sleep
- Sinus problems or infection
Puffy eyes can be treated at home and do not need medical intervention. Eyelid swelling, depending on its severity and potential underlying causes, may need to be addressed by a doctor.
Knowing the difference between puffy and swollen eyes can help you decide when to seek medical help.
Let’s continue by explaining the most common causes of eyelid swelling:
- Allergies – When exposed to an allergen, our body reacts by producing histamines and other chemicals for protection. This enlarges the blood vessels in the affected site, including the eyes, that leads to swelling. In this case, swelling is usually accompanied by itchy, watery, red or dry eyes.
- Blepharitis – This is caused by an inflammation or infection of the eyelids. Sores, redness, itching or a burning sensation and crusting along the lashes usually go with swelling in this case. Blepharitis is sometimes associated with the herpes simplex virus.
- Chalazion – This results from a blockage in the oil-producing gland of the eyelids, and it usually develops only in one eye. The blockage enlarges the glands and develops into a small, red and slightly painful mound in your affected eyelid. Over time, the pain will go away and so will the swelling. In some cases, though, it won’t, so you’ll need to have your eyelid checked.
- Conjunctivitis – Caused by either allergies, bacteria, virus and other irritants, conjunctivitis is an inflammation of your conjunctiva and is characterized by one or both of your eyes turning pink or slightly red. Apart from this, you’ll experience swelling, itchiness and a pus-like discharge. These symptoms diminish after one to two weeks, and you might need to see a doctor in the case of severe discomfort.
- Irritation – People wearing contact lenses are prone to irritation. So too are women who often apply makeup or facial creams and other skin products. Making yourself feel beautiful shouldn’t come with a price tag, but the ugly truth is that there are a slew of risks associated with using eye makeup, most notably eye infections and injuries.
- Stye – An unsightly reddish and painful pus-filled bump near your eyelid could be hordeolum, the medical term for stye. It is caused by a staphylococcal bacteria present in the nose. As a bacterial infection, a stye is contagious, but it may heal in a few days. Increased light sensitivity and watery eyes usually go with this eye infection.
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- Graves’ disease – Also known as thyroid eye disease (TED), Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder which results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Roughly 30 percent of those afflicted will develop Graves ophthalmopathy, where the eye muscles or fats expand as the immune cells attack the tissues around the eyes. The swelling gets worse later as the pressure in the eye socket increases.
- Herpes simplex infection – Named after the virus that causes it, a herpes simplex eye infection is also called epithelial keratitis. Less severe cases are often mistaken for pink eye because it considers swelling, pain, inflammation, discharge and redness among its symptoms. Severe cases affect the middle layers of the cornea and may cause blindness if left untreated.
What about dry eyes?
Another common cause for eye discomfort is dry eyes. Simply put, it happens when you’re not producing enough tears to lubricate and nourish your eyes. This condition is caused not only by specific types of eye diseases, but also by certain health conditions. A problem with the tear film, or the protective coating on your eye’s surface, is the culprit for this problem.
Risk factors for dry eye syndrome
- Aging – Studies show that the prevalence of dry eye increases among men and women every five years once they reach the age of 50. As we grow older, our ability to produce quality tears also reduces.
- Gender – Androgen levels impact tear production and decrease tear film stability. Hormonal changes in women, childbirth, taking contraceptives and menopause could also trigger changes in tear production.
- Diet – To maintain proper vision, you need nutrients such as vitamin A, lutein, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids. These vitamins and minerals help boost oil production and improve the quality of your tears. If you’re not getting enough nutrients, you’re at a risk of developing dry eye syndrome.
- Contact lens wearers – Contact lenses obstruct the flow of lacrimal fluid on the eye surface and absorb the tear film, leaving proteins to form and leading to dry eyes.
- Environmental factors – Dry ambient air can damage tear film over time. Hot, dry or windy climates, air conditioning and cigarette smoke can all contribute to dry eyes. A report on dry eye prevalence among US veterans additionally point at air pollution and atmospheric pressure as the main risk factors for dry eye syndrome.
- Computer and mobile phone use – Staring at digital screens result in lower blink rates, leading to reduced tear film distribution on the eye surface and eventually dry eyes.
- Medications – If taken regularly, some medications, such as contraceptive pills, antihistamines and beta blockers, can cause dry eyes. So are those that treat thyroid problems and autoimmune diseases.
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How to relieve common eye discomfort symptoms at home
Puffiness and swelling usually go away within a few days. Cold therapy works best in these conditions as it could help drain the fluids away from the affected site.
So how do you diminish eye swelling, puffiness and ease symptoms of dry eyes syndrome?
1. Cool compress – Use a clean, water-soaked washcloth and apply it on your eyes. Excessive water may find its way to your eyes, making you feel uncomfortable. For fuss-free relief, this optician-recommended multi-purpose eye gel mask works wonders for your eyes, reducing puffiness and swelling in no time.
According to studies, cold compresses are as effective as artificial tears for patients with dry eyes.
Reminder: Care should be taken in using cold masks or compresses. Never leave them on for more than 15 minutes and always put a cloth in between your eyes and the ice pack to avoid a potentially eye-damaging ice burn.
2. Wash or rinse – Cleanse your eyes especially if the puffiness of swelling is accompanied by a discharge. A soothing cold rinse works best for allergies.
3. Artificial tears or eye drops – Over-the-counter eye drops offer immediate relief for dry eyes, too. However, they contain preservatives and other chemicals that can potentially damage your eyes with prolonged use.
Dry eyes and other minor eye problems can be remedied at home with heat therapy. A reusable hot and cold eye gel mask that’s safe to use and offers eye protection is an important tool not only to those with eye problems, but also to those who just want to relax.
4. Warm compress – Disorders associated with meibomian glands, blepharitis and dry eye would need frequent application of warm eye compress to benefit from the following:
- Increased lubrication – The heat coming from a warm eye gel pack can stimulate oil production.
- Unclog oil – Without enough moisture, oil can stiffen and clog the glands in your eyelids, resulting in blepharitis, chalazion and styes. Heat can thin the oil and helps drain it easily.
- Relieve pain – The soothing effect of a warm eye gel pack eases discomfort from any type of eye infection, including that gritty feeling you get from having dry eyes.
- Overall relief – If you want to relax your eyes after long periods of staring at the computer, you can do so by inserting these gel-filled packs in the insulated eye cover and putting it on your eyes.
If you wear contact lenses, remove them immediately if your eyes or eyelids are swollen.
And, as we always say, if these simple home remedies fail to alleviate your symptoms, get a doctor’s appointment.
Our eyes are one of the most complex and active body parts. Extreme care should be taken to keep them healthy and to avoid exacerbating symptoms of minor eye problems.
Can you think about other home remedies for minor eye discomfort? We’d like to know about your eye-opening stories. You may write to us here.
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