Eye symptoms and signs

Eye symptoms can be signs of infection, irritation, or injury that has occurred directly to the eye or surrounding tissue. In other cases, the condition of your eyes can reveal an underlying health problem. Here's some insight on what may be the problem if you're experiencing any of the following:

NOTE: If you experience any new or troubling eye symptoms, visit your doctor or ophthalmologist to rule out any potentially serious problems.

Before reading on, check the EMERGENCY EYE SYMPTOMS chart to determine whether you need to seek immediate medical attention for your eye symptoms.


Call 9-1-1 if:

  • you have temporary or continued partial or complete blindness in one or both of your eyes
  • you experience temporary or continued double vision
  • your vision is suddenly impaired by blind spots, halos around lights, or other areas of distortion
  • it feels like a shade is being pulled down or a curtain pulled across your vision
  • you experience eye pain, especially if your eye is also red

Seek medical attention if you experience the following symptoms of vision change:

  • gradual loss of vision sharpness
  • blurred vision when viewing objects near to you or far from you
  • difficulty seeing objects to your side
  • difficulty seeing at night or when reading
  • difficulty telling colours apart
  • eye discharge or itching
  • vision changes that seem to be associated with a medication you take (Note: don't stop taking the medication before talking to your doctor)

You should also see your health care provider if you have a diabetes, a family history of diabetes, or a history of any eye disorder.

Eye symptoms: Burning eyes

"My eyes burn."
You may have experienced a "burning" sensation when you have accidentally gotten soap or shampoo in your eyes. Often, burning eyes are due to some type of irritant – be it a cosmetic or skin care, chlorine from a swimming pool, or environmental irritants like cigarette smoke or smog. Seasonal allergies or allergies to dust or pet dander may also cause eyes to burn or itch, as can infections like conjunctivitis (pink eye). Dry eyes can also cause a burning sensation.

Eye symptoms: Itchy eyes

"My eyes itch."
Itchy eyes could be due to eye allergies (allergic conjunctivitis), which are usually temporary and accompanied by other allergy symptoms, like stuffy nose and sneezing. The things that commonly cause eye allergies are similar to those that cause nasal allergies – pet dander, dust, pollen. Allergic reactions to other irritants, like perfume or cosmetics, can cause similar symptoms.

Itchiness may also be a result of inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis) or of the lining of the inner eyelid (conjunctivitis or pinkeye).

Eye symptoms: Red eyes

"My eyes are red."
Like itching and burning, red or bloodshot eyes can be triggered by infections. Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the lining of the eyelids and eye surface that can be caused by infection or allergies. Blepharitis is caused by bacteria on the skin and causes inflammation of the eyelash follicles along the eyelid and eye redness. Eye redness can also occur when other parts of the eye become inflamed, as in episcleritis or uveitis, or infected, as in corneal ulcers.

Injuries can also make your eyes red. Dust and sand can get into the eyes and cause small abrasions that lead to redness. Occasionally when a person strains or coughs too hard, a small bleeding spot called a subconjunctival hemorrhage can form on the eye.

Eye symptoms: Dry eyes

"My eyes are dry."
Your eyes become naturally drier as you get older, but dry air and sun exposure can sap the lubrication from your eyes at any age. Dry eyes may get worse if you smoke or if you are around second-hand smoke. Cold and allergy medications also commonly cause dry eyes. Prolonged dryness can lead to abrasions on the surface of the eyes.

Eye symptoms: Watery eyes

"My eyes are watery."
Watering up is a way the eyes defend themselves against infection and irritation. The viruses and bacteria that lead to conjunctivitis or blepharitis, for example, commonly trigger eye watering. So do allergic reactions to dust, mould, or animal dander. And if something gets into the eye – like sand, wind, or smog – the eyes water to force the foreign item out.

Likewise, watering and teariness happen when part of the eye, like the cornea, is scratched or cut. The eyes will also tear up in response to a blockage in or around the eye, like in the case of blocked tear duct or a stye, which is a red, sore lump (looks like a pimple) near the eyelid edge formed by an infected eyelash follicle. Eyes may tear up during strain of overuse or when laughing, yawning, or vomiting.

Eyes that water excessively can accompany a condition called Bell's palsy, a temporary form of paralysis or weakness that affects the muscles of the face.

Ironically, one of the most common causes of watery eyes is dry eyes. Dry eyes trigger the body to produce excess tears to lubricate the eyes.

Eye symptoms: Eye pain

"My eye hurts."
Eye pain can be caused by a number of factors and can feel like a dull aching or throbbing, or it can feel sharp and stabbing. Sharp pain may indicate a problem with the cornea (such as an infection or ulcer), while severe, deep, aching pain could be a sign of glaucoma. Pain frequently accompanies conjunctivitis (pinkeye), and a stye can be uncomfortable to the point of pain as well. If you have been overusing your eyes, you may experience eyestrain. And the pain from migraines or sinus problems sometimes affects the area around the eye.

Eye symptoms: Blood in eye

"There is blood in my eye."
Bleeding in the eye can happen along with a black eye or other injury to the eye, like cuts to the cornea.

If you see blood pooling in the white part of your eye, this might indicate a subconjunctival hemorrhage, also called red eye, which is a broken blood vessel. This small hemorrhage can occur after an injury or be caused by the sudden pressure created by violent sneezing or coughing. People with high blood pressure or who take blood thinners may be more prone to subconjunctival hemorrhages. Subconjunctival hemorrhages are common, almost always harmless, and usually goes away on their own in about 7 days.

Blood that pools in front part of the eye, including the pupil or the iris – the coloured portion of the eye – is called hyphema. Hyphema most commonly forms after trauma, but can also be indicative of a blood vessel abnormality, eye infections caused by herpes virus, inflammation of the iris, or possibly cancer in the eye.

Eye symptoms: Eye discharge, crusty eyelids and eyelashes

"My eyes have discharge and/or my eyelids or eyelashes are crusty."
Crusting on the eyelids and eyelashes can occur when infected discharge from the eyes clumps and hardens. Discharge and crusting may be symptoms of the viral and bacterial forms of conjunctivitis (pinkeye). Eye discharge may also be a symptom of the different forms of eye keratitis (bacterial, fungal, and herpes keratitis) or inflammation of the cornea.

In the condition blepharitis, oil glands on the eyelids become clogged, swollen, and crust over. Similarly, a blockage of the tear duct can also trigger discharge and crusting around the eyelids.

Eye symptoms: Twitching eyelid

"My eyelid is twitching."
A band of ocular muscles move your eyelids so they can open and shut. Sometimes, these muscles twitch, usually only for a few seconds or a few minutes at a time. Eyelid twitches are generally harmless and seem to be caused by stress, caffeine, and fatigue. Contact your eye doctor if the fluttery lid persists, causes your eyelid to stay closed, involves other parts of your face, or is accompanied by redness, swelling, or discharge.

Eye symptoms: Drooping eyelid

"My eyelid is drooping."
Ptosis is the word for this eye symptom. Drooping eyelids may be present at birth, and can cause problems with vision. Ptosis that develops as an adult may be due to an underlying neurological or muscular disease, or tumour. If ptosis occurs along with facial numbness and drooping of other parts of the face, the cause could be Bell's palsy, a temporary form of paralysis or weakness that affects the muscles of the face. Drooping eyelid could also be a sign of a stroke, tumour, or spinal cord injury.

Eye symptoms: Bulging eyes

"My eyes seem to be bulging."
If you can see visible white between the top of the coloured part of your eye and your upper eyelid, you may have some degree of eye bulging. The most common cause of bulging eyes is overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, especially a form called Graves' disease. Tumours, infection, and vascular disorders are among other potential causes of protruding eyes.

Is it not the whole eye but only the clear, front part of the eye that bulges? An uncommon condition called keratoconus could be the cause. In keratoconus, the cornea thins and is shaped like a cone. Keratoconus tends to affect both eyes and may blur or distort vision.

Eye symptoms: Bump, spot, or growth on eye

"There is a bump, spot, or growth on my eye. "
Bumps on the eyelid are usually one of two things – a stye, an infected eyelash follicle, or a chalazion, an oil-clogged gland. Both form red bumps, but chalazia are often larger and develop farther from the edge of the eyelid.

A brown spot on the eye may indicate a nevus, a harmless pigmentation that is much like a mole or freckle on the eye. A dark spot that is accompanied by blurred or reduced vision, a sensation of flashing lights, or a change in the size of the pupil may be a sign of ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer.

A yellow patch on the eye could be a pinguecula, a kind of callus on the eye that is usually on the conjunctiva near the cornea. If a yellow patch is in the shape of a triangle, it could be a pterygium, which is fleshy tissue on the white of the eye. If it grows large enough, a pterygium could impair vision by covering the cornea. Both pinguecula and pterygium seem to happen more among people who spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun or in windblown places.

Eye symptoms: Pupil changes

"My pupils (black center part of eye) look different."
Noticing that the pupil of one eye is larger than the other can be alarming. It is best to seek medical attention to have uneven pupils examined. In some instances, the difference in size is small and temporary, and may be nothing to worry about. Eyedrops may also cause a harmless discrepancy between pupils' size. But if the difference in size is more than 1 millimetre and the pupils do not return to equal size, this may be a sign of an underlying neurological or circulatory problem and should be examined as soon as possible.

A pupil that appears white instead of black should also be examined as soon as possible. An ophthalmologist or doctor will need to determine whether the white pupil is caused by a cataract, a cloudy cornea, or something else.

A defect of the iris (the coloured portion of the eye) called coloboma can appear as a black spot or hole near the pupil. Coloboma may also look like a black notch extending into the iris from the pupil, earning it the nickname "cat eye."

Eye symptoms: Colour changes

"My eyes are different colours or have changed colour."
Talk to your doctor if you notice a new change in your eye colour. If one eye is different in colour from the other, this is called heterochromia. It is often hereditary or brought on by disease or injury.

If both eyes appear to be lightening in colour to a light blue or gray, it may be a natural part of aging, as the iris loses pigmentation and fades in colour.

Another aging change to the eyes' colour is called arcus corneus or arcus senilis. This is a grayish-white ring that forms around the cornea and is caused by fat deposits. If this grayish-white ring forms around the cornea of a younger person, it could be a sign of high cholesterol or triglycerides.

Eye symptoms: Light sensitivity

"My eyes are sensitive to light."
Photophobia – or light sensitivity – may be caused by something as simple as wearing your contact lenses too long or wearing lenses that are poorly fitted to your eye. Give your eyes a rest from contact lens wear and let your eye doctor know if you experience light sensitivity or other problems when wearing your lenses.

Photophobia is a common symptom of migraine headaches. Migraines may also be triggered by glares, certain levels of light, or patterns of light. Precision-tinted lenses may be a therapeutic option for those who deal with chronic migraines, photophobia, or light-triggered migraines.

 An injury to the eye – like ulcers, burns, or cuts and scrapes on the cornea – may cause light sensitivity. So can eye disorders that cause inflammation or infection (examples: conjunctivitis or pinkeye, uveitis, iritis, keratitis).

Photophobia may be a side effect of medication. Mydriatics, the drugs used by eye doctors to dilate your pupils during an eye exam, cause almost immediate light sensitivity that goes away after a few hours. If you experience photophobia or light sensitivity, ask your pharmacist if one of your medications could be to blame.

See a doctor if your sensitivity to light is severe, if it lasts longer than a day or two, or if it occurs along with headache, red eye, or blurry vision. Be sure to let your doctor know about all of your eye symptoms, including any pain, wounds or sores, redness, or itching. Also inform your doctor of other seemingly unrelated symptoms – nausea, neck stiffness, dizziness, numbness or tingling in any part of your body, or changes in your hearing. And disclose any drugs or medications you may be taking.

Amy Toffelmire

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2022. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Eye-Symptoms-and-Signs