Common Eye Conditions: How to Recognize and Treat Them

Every year, over six million people get conjunctivitis, over 3 million deal with dry eyes, and 200,000 are affected by a chronic condition called blepharitis. These common eye conditions require proper attention in order to keep your eyes healthy. Learn more about what they are and how to treat them.


Sally Wadyka

| Reviewed by

Quinn Wang, MD

There are many eye diseases that can increase your risk of vision loss or even blindness. Then there are conditions that—while possibly painful and annoying—are not usually a threat to your vision. 

But your eye health is too important to ever take for granted. If you suspect you may have conjunctivitis (better known as pink eye), chronic dry eyes or blepharitis (eyelid inflammation), consider consulting your primary care provider. In some cases, these problems may be treated with simple interventions; in other cases, they may be serious enough to warrant a trip to your eyecare provider. Accurate diagnosis and treatment is essential to resolve symptoms and keep your eyes healthy. 


What it is: Conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye) results from an infection or an allergic reaction. Pink eye is very common and affects up to six million adults and children each year. 

When you have conjunctivitis, the conjunctiva -- the thin colorless membrane that covers the whites of your eyeball -- becomes red and irritated. 

There are three types of conjunctivitis, with three different causes: viral, bacterial and allergic. 

What it feels like: Conjunctivitis symptoms are similar regardless of whether it’s caused by a virus, bacteria or an allergic reaction. The condition can affect one or both eyes. Common symptoms include:

  • Swollen, red, puffy eyes
  • Discharge ranging from watery to thick
  • Eyelids that feel crusty or stuck together when you wake up
  • Burning, itching or irritation
  • Feeling like you have a piece of dirt or dust in your eye

How to prevent it: Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are easily transmitted from one eye to the other—and to other people. To avoid spreading it, take precautions such as:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching your eyes
  • Do not share towels, washcloths or eye makeup
  • If you wear contacts, throw away your current pair and replace your existing contact lens solution 
  • Do not use contact lenses during an active infection 

How to treat it: In most cases, conjunctivitis goes away on its own within a week or two. To relieve symptoms, stop wearing contacts, use artificial tears, wash your hands often, and apply a cold compress to your eyes several times a day.

If your symptoms are interfering with your vision or if they last more than two weeks, consider getting in touch with your healthcare provider. If you have bacterial conjunctivitis, your provider may prescribe antibiotic eye drops. 

Dry eyes

What it is: Dry eyes affect millions of Americans, and the condition becomes more prevalent with age. It occurs when your eyes don’t make enough tears, or the tears they make aren’t able to sufficiently moisturize and protect your eyes.  

What it feels like: If you have chronically dry eyes, your eyes will feel irritated—which can make it especially difficult to wear contact lenses. Other symptoms of dry eyes include:

  • Redness
  • Stinging or burning
  • Excessive watering of your eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision

What causes it: Women are more likely to get dry eyes, sometimes due to hormonal changes. Tear production also naturally decreases with age, making dry eyes more common for all genders after age 50. 

Other factors that contribute to dry eyes include:

How to treat it: Your eyecare provider may recommend a variety of strategies to improve tear production and lubricate your eyes, including but not limited to:

  • Using a humidifier to increase indoor humidity in your home
  • Supplementing your natural tear production with over-the-counter lubricating eye drops 
  • Prescribing anti-inflammatory eye drops such as Restasis 
  • Plugging up your tear ducts: Your eyecare provider can insert tiny silicone plugs (called punctal plugs) into your tear ducts to block tears from draining. This way,  tears stay on the surface of your eyes longer and help to keep them moisturized. 


What it is: Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids — it’s especially common in people who have oily skin, rosacea or dandruff. The condition is chronic, meaning there is no permanent cure. 

What it feels like: This condition most often affects both eyes. Your eyes may be red, irritated and swollen. They may burn, itch or sting. Sometimes, the condition also leads to flaky skin or crust forming on your eyelids and in your lashes. In more severe cases, blepharitis can lead to eyelid swelling, blurry vision, loss of eyelashes, and damage to other parts of your eye. 

What causes it: Blepharitis has many different causes. One of the most common is a buildup of bacteria (e.g. staphylococcus) at the bases of your eyelashes. Additionally, excess oil and flaky skin can also block and clog up your eyelid’s oil glands, leading to inflammation. 

How to treat it: Left untreated, the swollen and clogged oil glands can lead to other problems—including styes, dry eyes and corneal damage. While you can’t cure blepharitis, you can take steps to manage the condition, such as:

  • Antibiotic drops or ointment to treat bacteria
  • Treating conditions (such as rosacea and dandruff) that contribute to blepharitis
  • Gently washing your eyelids daily
  • Using a warm compress to unclog oil glands 

QE Perspective: Regular eyecare is the key to preventing common eye problems and effectively treating them. Be sure to take your eye health seriously and see your provider as needed. Quickly addressing any issues that come up is essential to keeping your eyes healthy for life. 


CDC on Conjunctivitis

American Academy of Ophthalmology on Conjunctivis

American Academy of Ophthalmology on Blepharitis

American Optometric Association

National Eye Institute

NEI on Dry Eye 


Taking good care of your eyes and your overall health can go a long way toward preventing age-related eye conditions. Eating an eye-healthy diet that includes lots of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables slows down the formation of cataracts and reduces your risk of macular degeneration. Getting plenty of exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can prevent diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure--both of which affect vision and eye health. And while you may not be able to prevent the presbyopia (and need for reading glasses) that comes with getting older, your eyecare professional can make sure you get the correct vision correction to see clearly.


The sun’s rays contain damaging ultraviolet (UV) light. The same UV rays that burn your skin and lead to skin cancer also affect your eyes. Staring directly into strong sunlight can damage the retina. And repeated sun exposure over time can lead to cataracts, benign growths on the eyes and even eye cancer. Protect your eyes anytime you’re in the sun by wearing sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.


Some people claim that by correcting your vision with prescription glasses or contacts, you’re weakening your eyes—which then leads to worse vision. Their “proof” is that after wearing your corrective prescription for a while, your vision appears blurrier when you’re not wearing it. But that’s likely because you’re now used to seeing the world in clear, crisp detail—and in contrast, your uncorrected vision appears fuzzier. Getting the proper vision correction for your eyes is essential for your eye health. Don’t try to tough it out if you can’t see clearly. Visit your eyecare professional for an in-person or virtual vision screening.


Not having a bright enough light may make it harder to clearly see the words on the page, but it won’t damage your eyes or permanently impact your vision. Because you’re straining to see, you might get a headache or other symptoms of eyestrain. If you want to read in bed without illuminating the entire bedroom, get a reading light that provides just enough brightness to see your book clearly. 


LASIK surgery corrects your distance vision only, so people who are nearsighted benefit most from it. But LASIK doesn’t affect the lens of the eye, the part that helps you focus up close. As you get older, changes to the lens impact your ability to see close up. So even if you have LASIK in your 20s or 30s, you’ll most likely still need reading glasses by the time you hit your 40s or 50s.


Having your face right up next to the bright screen may give you a headache or even cause some temporary eyestrain or fatigue, but it won’t damage your vision. Children are more prone to this behavior than adults—which may be because children can focus close up better than adults can. But if your child can only see the television clearly when sitting close (and has to hold other things close to see them clearly), they may be nearsighted. Taking your child to an eyecare professional for a vision exam will help determine if they need glasses to see clearly.


Most eyecare professionals recommend removing—and thoroughly cleaning—your contacts every night. Even if you use extend-wear lenses that are approved for use a week or month at a time, it’s always safer to give your eyes a nightly break. Your contacts are more likely to accumulate bacteria when you leave them in 24/7, and that can lead to eye infections. Sleeping in your contacts also prevents essential oxygen from getting to your corneas. If you must sleep in your contacts, make it a once-in-a-while event and ask your eyecare provider about contacts that are specially formulated to let more oxygen through. 


Carrots (along with other vegetables like sweet potatoes and dark leafy greens) contain high amounts of beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for eye health, and a deficiency of the nutrient is the leading cause of childhood blindness in developing countries. In the U.S., vitamin A deficiency is rare, and few people get so little it could impact their eyesight. Also, there’s no evidence that beta-carotene affects the sharpness of your vision or can prevent near or farsightedness. So while getting lots of beta-carotene in your diet may help keep your eyes healthy, no amount of carrots is going to actually improve your vision and allow you to toss out your glasses or contacts. 


The jury is still out on how effective blue light glasses are for eyestrain. One recent study found they made no difference in eyestrain symptoms during a two-hour-long computer task. But some experts feel they may help alleviate eyestrain and fatigue during prolonged, cumulative screen time. Either way, blue glasses alone won’t solve the problem of too much screen time. The best way to reduce eyestrain is to limit screen time and take frequent breaks when you do need to spend several hours at your computer.


The jury is still out on how effective blue light glasses are for eyestrain. One recent study found they made no difference in eyestrain symptoms during a two-hour-long computer task. But some experts feel they may help alleviate eyestrain and fatigue during prolonged, cumulative screen time. Either way, blue glasses alone won’t solve the problem of too much screen time. The best way to reduce eyestrain is to limit screen time and take frequent breaks when you do need to spend several hours at your computer. 

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