How Our Eyes Respond to Eye Irritants
Our eyes are very sensitive – and that’s a good thing! This sensitivity preserves our vision by protecting our eyes from potential eye irritants.
Still, it can be worrying when eyes go from fine, to itchy and watery in a matter of seconds. Read on to learn about how our eyes respond to irritants.
How Our Eyes Defend Themselves
Many symptoms of eye irritation are our eyes’ natural defenses against both infection and irritation.
When faced with an irritant, our eyes start to tear up. This is the eye trying to flush out the foreign body before it can cause any damage. If the contaminant can’t be flushed out, or if damage has occurred to the surface of the eye, then the eye begins to get swollen, itchy and red. This inflammatory response causes the eye’s blood vessels to swell, speeding up the healing process by allowing antibodies and nutrients to reach the site of irritation more quickly.
Some of the Most Common Eye Irritants
A few of the most common sources of eye irritation are:
- Dust and pollen
- Digital screens
- Contact lenses
Dust and Pollen
Dust and pollen are some of the most frequent causes of red, itchy and watery eyes. This is because allergies are very common – and many allergic reactions involve the eyes.
Allergies happen when the body overreacts to generally benign substances, such as pollen and dust. When an allergic reaction affects the eyes, this is known as allergic conjunctivitis.
It might be surprising to learn that digital screens are a common cause of eye irritation. However, chronically red, dry and tired eyes are an unavoidable side effect of staring at screens for long periods of time. The reason for this? We blink significantly less when looking at screens.
Contact lenses can also be a source of eye irritation. Everyone’s eyes are different, so it makes sense that your contact lenses need to be custom fit to your eyes’ unique shape.
Wearing the wrong contact lenses can cause blurry vision and increase the chance of infection. Wearing lenses from an outdated prescription is similarly hazardous to your eye health.
How to Calm Eye Irritation
In the event of an emergency, your first step should always be to rinse your eyes with lukewarm water to flush out any contaminants. Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this will only exacerbate irritation, and worsen the potential damage caused by the irritant.
If you wear contact lenses, remove them immediately. If you can, inspect the lenses for any cracks or signs of damage. If there are any, don’t put them back in! Place the lenses in a storage case, and contact your eye care professional immediately.
Other Tips for Soothing Irritated Eyes
- Make sure to take regular breaks from your computer and phone screens.
- Antihistamines can reduce symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.
- Eye drops can reduce redness and soothe the eyes.
- Use a cool compress on your eyes to reduce any swelling.
- It can be tempting to keep your contacts in for longer than you’re supposed to, but following proper contact lens hygiene is important to maintain good eye health. Make sure to follow any instructions on how long to wear your contacts and when to switch to a new pair.
- When purchasing contact lenses, make sure that your order matches the prescription your doctor gave you.
Always Consult Your Eye Care Professional
Sometimes, eye irritation won’t go away. If you are still experiencing eye irritation, consult your eye care professional immediately. This will help prevent any eye irritants from further damaging your eye.
A Note Worth Remembering
While eye allergies pose little threat to your vision, the symptoms of infection and other more serious conditions can be mistaken for allergic conjunctivitis. Do not hesitate to call your eye care professional if your symptoms do not improve.