Red eyes, often caused by irritated blood vessels, can result from allergies, smoke, smog, chlorine, lack of sleep, or watching TV for long periods of time. If you have red eyes that are itchy, try not to rub them. Doing so can start an itch-rub cycle: The more you rub, the more your eyes will itch. If red eyes don’t clear up, eye-drops or other medications are available. Ask a parent or a pharmacist for advice.
Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is a common eye condition. Symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis include redness, swelling, itching, and a discharge that can be so thick that the eyelids almost stick together. Persons with pinkeye should be seen by a doctor. This very contagious condition can be passed on by contaminated fingers, washcloths, or towels.
Be careful when using sharp objects anywhere near your eyes. Items in everyday use, such as hairbrushes, mascara brushes, and even paper napkins or paper towels, can scratch the cornea, the outer covering of the eye. The result can be anything from a minor irritation to a more serious injury requiring your eye to be covered with a patch for a day or two.
Other things that can hurt your eyes are steam from microwave popcorn (if you look closely into the bag as you open it), curling irons, and snapping rubber bands or bungee cords that hold down objects.
The Three O’s
When your eyes need special care, you’re likely to seek out one of these three kinds of eye care professionals, the three O’s:
Ophthalmologists are physicians who diagnose and treat eye diseases, prescribe drugs, perform eye surgery, and give prescriptions for glasses and contacts.
Optometrists have graduate degrees in optometry, but they are not physicians. They can examine eyes for vision problems and disease, and write prescriptions for glasses and contacts.
Opticians fill prescriptions for eyeglasses. Some states require opticians to be licensed. Some states also allow them to fit contacts, but they cannot perform an eye examination.
Sports and Your Eyes
Basketball players get elbows in the eye. Baseballs and hockey pucks travel at o miles an hour. A squash ball has more energy than a .22 caliber bullet. Even badminton isn’t a gentle sport: Olympic competitors send shuttlecocks flying at 140 mph.
In 1993, 41,000 Americans suffered eye injuries in sports. More than 70 percent of those injuries happened to people under age 25. It is estimated that 90 percent of all sports-related eye accidents are preventable.
Athletes in most sports are urged to wear eye protection with lenses made of polycarbonate, a tough material used in plastic riot shields and jet aircraft canopies. When you choose eyeguards, make sure the materials meet impact standards set by ANSI (American National Standards Institute). The protective glasses should fit comfortably and allow you to wear a helmet with them. Don’t buy or use sports eyeguards without lenses.
Sun and Snow
Sun reflecting off snow sets the conditions for snow blindness, an overexposure of the eyes to ultraviolet rays. Snow blindness makes your eyes red, itchy, and sensitive to light, making them feel as if they had been rubbed with sandpaper. Recovery from snowblindness takes time – up to two or three days. The condition is easily prevented by wearing goggles or glasses that wrap around the side of your face and that filter out 100 percent of the ultraviolet light. Another advantage to wearing goggles is that they protect your eyes from wayward ski poles and tree branches.
* Reading in bad light hurts your eyes. In low light your pupils open wider (dilate) to let in more light. This may strain the eye muscles, but dim light doesn’t harm your eyesight.
* Using a computer or doing detail work makes you nearsighted. Nearsightedness is genetic (inherited), and no type of work will make your vision worse. Working at a computer, however, can make your eyes dry because you blink less and you tend to open your eyes wider. Artificial tears, which are a kind of eyedrop, are good to relieve this. If you wear glasses for reading and work a lot at a computer, you may develop eyestrain. Reading glasses are made for reading at a distance of about 12 to 14 inches; computer screens are usually 18 to 20 inches away. Ask your eye care professional about lenses that are appropriate for a computer.
* Your vision will get worse if you don’t wear your glasses, or vice versa. The anatomy of your eye isn’t changed by your wearing glasses. Not wearing your glasses strains the eye muscles, but does not affect the eyes.
Finally, remember that you can’t wear out your eyes by overusing them.
Shades of Protection
Look for these three features when choosing sunglasses.
* Lenses that block 90 percent to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays. This information should be stated on the tag.
* Dark tints that screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light. * Lenses that have uniform color and no distortion. Test this by holding the sunglasses at arm’s length and looking through them at a straight line. If the line distorts or moves, the lens has imperfections.