Our eyes are our most important asset in daily life, so if we begin to experience sensitivity in our eyes, it can be cause for alarm. There are several causes of sensitive eyes and several kinds of symptoms associated with each. Knowing how to recognize these signs can alleviate pain and discomfort and can possibly save your vision. As with all medical conditions, if you are experiencing any symptoms of sensitive eyes, seek help from a medical professional as soon as possible.
The most common cause of sensitive eyes is allergies. Certain pollens or irritants (such as dust or pollution) are perceived by the body's immune system as an invader, causing a range of symptoms such as runny or watery eyes, itching, a burning sensation, dryness and sensitivity to light.
Conjunctivitis, or "pink eye," is an infection of the eye caused by several types of bacteria or viruses, all of which are highly contagious. Conjunctivitis causes soreness, painful blinking, sensitivity to light or to quick changes in lighting, mucus discharge and swelling or puffiness of the eyes.
Occasionally, trauma can occur to the eye: particles of sand or dust, an eyelash dislodged into the eye, or even excessive rubbing of the eye. Typically in these cases, the eye's cornea becomes scratched, causing the myriad nerve endings to send to the brain small pain signals, which can be processed as feeling sensitive to light, wind, or other irritants. Minor abrasions typically heal quickly and are not accompanied by other symptoms.
In some cases, such as industrial accident, the cornea can be severely damaged. In these cases, it takes longer for the eye to heal and may cause short-term pain when exposed to light, wind or other irritants. These symptoms should diminish as the eye heals itself over time.
As a person ages, he may become more sensitive to bright light. Usually, people over 40 years of age find they can tolerate bright sunlight or the glare from shiny objects less readily than they did when they were younger. In these cases, you might squint or feel some minor discomfort when in bright light.
Just as some people have sensitive hearing, skin or taste, some people have sensitive eyes. For example, excessively bright light, such as on a sunny winter day where the light is reflected off the snow, may cause pain or watering of the eyes. If you experience these symptoms at other typically sunny places (at the beach, on the water), you may have eyes that are genetically more sensitive to variations in light.
The best prevention for sensitive eyes is to take precautions such as using sunglasses during sunny days and not rubbing your eye if something gets in it. Avoid trauma to the eye by wearing safety glasses or goggles and rinse the eye if something irritating lands in it.
Also, regular visits to an opthamologist or other eye care physician can help maintain and address many of these problems.
In the case of allergies, an over-the-counter or a prescription allergy medication usually alleviates the symptoms readily.