Our eyes provide us with a world of information every day. But some days, they can also provide us with uncomfortable symptoms. Whether it’s itching, burning or redness, we all experience eye symptoms at some point. Regular eye exams will help in early detection and treatment of serious eye disorders, and many natural interventions can help soothe minor eye complaints and support ongoing eye health.
A sty is a small, painful swelling on the edge of the eyelid. It is caused by a bacterial infection in one of the oil-producing glands of the lid. If you have had one, you know how amazingly uncomfortable they can be, as well as unsightly.
A standard treatment for sties is a warm compress: simply a warm towel that is placed over the eye for 15 to 20 minutes, two to four times a day. This is done until the sty drains, relieving the pressure and discomfort. Never squeeze or poke a sty, as this can cause more irritation, swelling and misery.
While you have a sty, avoid wearing eye makeup so you don’t contaminate your makeup applicator with bacteria from the affected eye. For similar reasons, avoid sharing cosmetics with other people.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
A more serious problem than sties, AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in those over 65. After age 75, more than 30 per cent of the population will suffer from some degree of AMD. Risk factors include age, smoking, lack of nutrients (zinc, vitamin C and carotenoids) or family history of AMD.
AMD affects the part of the eye that is responsible for sharp central vision. Vision loss from AMD begins as a blurring and loss of central vision; you may notice a missing spot in the centre of your vision or that straight lines appear wavy. Any change in your vision requires immediate assessment; if you notice these or other changes, make an appointment with your optometrist right away.
The best approach to AMD is prevention. In addition to having regular eye exams, protect your eyes with sunglasses, don’t smoke and eat a diet rich in brightly coloured vegetables, a key source of carotenoids that are important for eye health.
If you already have early AMD or have a strong family history, supplements providing lutein, zinc and antioxidants (vitamins C and E, and beta carotene) are worth considering. Studies have shown that these nutrients can slow the progression of AMD when taken early on.
Tired, red eyes
Asthenopia: it sounds like an exotic land far, far away. But asthenopia is actually a common collection of symptoms due to eye strain. Symptoms usually occur after reading, working on a computer or similar eye-straining activity and can include dryness, irritation, pain, temporary double vision and headaches.
The first and most important treatment for this condition is to just give your eyes a break now and then. Continually staring at a screen or papers is not eye-friendly, and taking a break for a few minutes each hour can make a big difference. Researchers have shown that taking 50 minutes worth of short computer breaks a day can reduce asthenopia symptoms, without affecting work productivity.
Special films that reduce computer screen glare also help to reduce asthenopia symptoms.
Nutrients that can be helpful for eye strain-related symptoms include DHA, bilberry and lutein. A small study using a combination of these nutrients showed a reduction in asthenopia in only four weeks.
Dry eye syndrome (DES) is a relatively common problem, and though dry eyes may sound like no big deal, people with DES can suffer from very uncomfortable symptoms. DES can include symptoms of intense eye irritation, including the feeling that there is something in the eye.
Lubricating eye drops can be very helpful in providing some temporary relief. But for a deeper-acting treatment, increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids may help. In a 90-day study comparing omega-3 supplementation to placebo, 70 per cent of the omega-3 group experienced symptom relief compared to only 37 per cent of the placebo group.
Another common cause of eye irritation is environmental allergies. To help reduce your allergy symptoms, consider these natural interventions.
Neti pot: It looks like Aladdin’s lamp, and it pours water up your nose. Sounds terrible, but it is actually easy and fairly comfortable once you get the hang of it. Neti pots have been around for a very long time. They are used to help cleanse the nasal passages with saline (salt water) and can help to significantly reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.
Neti pots or similar nasal irrigation devices can be found in most health food stores. They generally come with little packets of saline mix that you add to water. You can use your neti pot daily during allergy season to help reduce bothersome allergy symptoms.
SLIT (sublingual immunotherapy): This very effective therapy will help to reduce your body’s reaction to environmental allergens. It involves placing a couple of drops of allergen extract under the tongue each day. This can provide simple and effective allergy relief that can permanently eliminate some allergies. For more information about this therapy, consult a naturopath trained to prescribe SLIT.
Air purifier in the home: Another worthwhile consideration, this can help reduce airborne allergens in the home, providing better sleep and fewer symptoms from allergens around the house. Your eyes will thank you!
Vitamin C and quercetin: These are popular natural treatments for allergies, but unfortunately there is very little published evidence to support their use in relieving allergy symptoms. Despite this, many people attest to their benefits, and there is certainly no harm in trying them for mild environmental allergies. Vitamin C may also offer additional eye benefits as an antioxidant.
In addition to these natural approaches to eye health, remember to schedule regular appointments with your optometrist in order to ensure the best eye health possible.
Helpful herbs and supplements for eye health
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
- beta carotene
Diabetes and eye care
Diabetes can cause changes to the retina at the back of the eye, resulting in a condition called diabetic retinopathy. According to Diabetes Australia, diabetic retinopathy affects 50 to 60 per cent of the approximately 1.7 million Australians who have been diagnosed with diabetes. This condition has two types:
Macular edema occurs when a part of the retina called the macula becomes swollen. The macula helps you see colours but when it swells, blindness can occur.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy also results in the loss of vision. It occurs when new weak blood vessels at the back of the eye break, leaking blood so that the retina can’t send images to the brain.
Symptoms to watch for include
- blurred eyesight
- flashes of light
- spots or floaters in your field of vision
- sudden loss of sight
If you’re diabetic
- maintain healthy blood pressure, and blood glucose and cholesterol levels
- quit smoking
- get regular exercise
- have annual eye exams, or as often as your optometrist recommends
- get screened for retinopathy
Who should be screened for retinopathy?
|Type of diabetes
|15 and older
|annually, starting 5 years after the onset of diabetes
|at the time of diagnosis, and after that every 1 to 2 years
|type 1 or 2
|women wishing to become pregnant or pregnant women of any age
|before conception, during the first trimester, and one year post partum (your optometrist may also recommend other checkups during pregnancy)