17 Warning Signs Your Eyes Are Trying to Tell You About Your Health
These eye problems could be symptoms of major health issues.
Our eyes are among the more sensitive parts of our bodies—and among the most vulnerable, too. According to a 2015 report from the Vision Council of America, more than 75 percent of American adults require some form of corrective vision device, and a significant 2008 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that approximately 27,000 individuals experience work-related eye injuries each year.
However, it’s not just trauma or needing a new prescription that should have you heading to the eye doctor. From itchiness that won't go away to sudden vision changes, we've consulted with top eye health experts on the eye symptoms you can’t afford to ignore.
You have abnormal eye movements.
If your eyes feel like they’re darting back and forth without any attempt on your part to move them, it’s time to get to your doctor ASAP. While this could be an indication of a lesion on your ocular muscles or nerve damage, it may be a sign of something even more serious.
“A common abnormal eye movement is saccadic dysmetria, which could be characterized as ocular jerks or flutters even when resting,” says ophthalmologist Rahil Chaudhary, managing director at Eye7 Chaudhary Eye Center. He explains that this problem, which originates in the cerebellum, could be the result of everything from Lyme disease to multiple sclerosis to undiagnosed head trauma.
You have chronically dry eyes.
While many people experience dry eyes from time to time, whether related to changes in the weather or irritants introduced into the eye area, chronic dry eyes may be a symptom of an autoimmune disease.
“Sjögren's Syndrome (SS) is an autoimmune condition which destroys the exocrine glands' ability to secrete substances,” explains Giuseppe Aragona, a family medicine doctor with Prescription Doctor. Aragona explains that while life expectancy for those with Sjögren's Syndrome is close to that of the general population, the condition can increase a person’s risk of infection, as well as lymphoma.
Your eyes are bulging.
Suddenly bulging eyes "could be a sign of a potentially dangerous condition called Thyroid Eye Disease (TED), a serious, progressive and vision-threatening rare autoimmune disease" that can sometimes lead to blindness, says ophthalmologist Gary J. Lelli, MD, vice chair of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Bulging eyes may also be a sign of Graves' disease, a less-serious condition caused by an overactive thyroid, according to physician Nikola Djordjevic, MD, founder of HealthCareers. “Some patients may also experience red eyes as well as blurry vision” due to the condition, says Djordjevic, who also notes that sleep disturbances, increased thirst, and weight loss are other symptoms of Graves' disease.
You have pressure in your eyes.
While headaches can cause pressure around your eyes, pressure that affects your eyeballs directly isn’t a symptom you should take lightly.
Howard R. Krauss, MD, a surgical neuro-ophthalmologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, says that the sensation of pressure in your eyes is most commonly attributable to an orbicularis muscle spasm resulting from dry eyes or irritation, but “may also be due to inflammation behind the eyes, such as that due to Thyroid Eye Disease, infection, or tumor.”
You have pain in your eye.
A sensation of pain in your eye “should not be neglected,” cautions Krauss. While it could be caused by the presence of a foreign object, it’s sometimes an indicator of a more serious issue behind the eye, in your sinus cavity, “or even at the base of the brain with compression or irritation of the trigeminal nerve,” says Krauss.
Your vision goes away for a minute.
For folks with migraines, a sudden loss of vision may be a regular occurrence. However, for those without these often-debilitating headaches, it could indicate something far more serious.
“It could also be amaurosis fugax, or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which warrants emergency evaluation … as it may be a sign of interruption of circulation to the eye or the brain,” explains Krauss, who notes that even if your vision has returned, it’s important to be seen by a doctor to stave off a potential stroke.
Your vision goes out when you stand up.
A sudden loss of vision when you stand up from a seated position isn’t something you should take a "wait and see" approach about.
This temporary loss of vision indicates that there’s been a momentary loss of blood flow to your eye, optic nerve, or brain, “which could be an indication of low blood pressure, vascular disease, or increased intracranial pressure,” explains Krauss.
Your vision fluctuates.
Feel like you’re seeing things clearly one moment and everything looks fuzzy the next? If so, it’s time to book your next eye exam.
Though Krauss notes that this is most often a symptom of needing glasses, “it may also be a sign of diabetes or other systemic diseases.”
You have sudden double vision.
Double vision after a few too many beers? It happens. Double vision that comes on for no discernible reason? Definitely not something you should ignore.
Optometrist Leigh Plowman says that double vision could be a sign of “a bleed, tumor, or swelling,” all of which merit immediate care.
You see sudden flashes of light in your eyes.
While the National Eye Institute notes that most people have floaters—small benign vision disturbances—seeing sudden flashes you can’t easily ignore, noticing changes to your existing floaters, or having shadows come across your vision may indicate a more complex medical issue.
“While it doesn't definitively mean something serious, these are symptoms of retinal detachment, which is an emergency situation,” says Toni Albrecht, OD, of InVision Distinctive Eyewear.
You have blurred vision after eating a sugary meal.
What do that donut and your eyesight have in common? If the former’s affecting the latter, a blood test for diabetes could be in order.
“When we have excess sugar in our blood stream, which is mismanaged in diabetes, the sugar can cause the lens in our eyes to swell, leading to blurred vision,” says Benjamin Bert, MD, an ophthalmologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, who notes that repeated ocular swelling can encourage the development of cataracts as well.
You have light sensitivity and redness in one eye.
A sudden aversion to light, coupled with redness, could be an indication of uveitis. Uveitis is a type of inflammation that affects the uvea, the layer of the eye under the sclera, the white part of your eye.
According to Bert, “most often these [cases] are autoimmune in nature,” and can be caused by conditions including ankylosing spondylitis, multiple sclerosis, and sarcoid and rheumatoid arthritis.
You have itchy eyes.
Itchy eyes are often linked to seasonal allergies, but that’s not the only condition likely to have you reaching for the eye drops.
“Irritated or even inflamed eyes can be a sign of eyelid dermatitis, better known as eczema,” explains Alain Michon, MD, medical director at the Ottawa Skin Clinic, who notes that not scratching your eyes and seeking medical treatment are your best courses of action if this is the case.
Your iris is inflamed.
Think arthritis symptoms are limited to your joints? Think again.
“Anterior uveitis—painful inflammation of the iris—is often a telltale sign” of rheumatoid arthritis, says Joseph J. Pizzimenti, OD, medical advisor for EyePromise.
You have a fixed spot in your field of vision.
An immobile spot in your field of vision is a medical emergency that you can’t wait to treat.
“Optometrists can detect malignant melanomas and other cancers at the back of the eye, as well as brain tumors that cause changes in a patient's field of vision,” says Pizzimenti, who notes that patients often don’t realize something's wrong until the spot is in the center of their field of vision.
Your vision is getting worse in just one eye.
In most cases, if one eye is getting worse, the other isn’t far behind.
However, Carol Alexander, OD, head of North America professional relations at Johnson & Johnson Vision, says that worsening vision or a complete loss of vision in only one eye—that isn’t trauma-related—is a serious medical issue. Alexander explains that this can happen when blood vessels in the eye leak or become blocked, noting that it's "these types of vascular changes that can lead to both heart attack [and] stroke.”
Your eyes are crossing.
You don’t have to worry about your eyes getting stuck that way if you cross them intentionally, but if you find that they’re crossing on their own, it’s time to get seek professional treatment.
Benjamin H. Ticho, MD, founder of Ticho Eye Associates and an associate professor at the University of Illinois Eye & Ear Infirmary, says that while eye crossing in children is typically benign, it should be evaluated quickly by an ophthalmologist, as “a sudden problem moving the eye outwards can be evidence of elevated intracranial pressure or stroke.”