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How Our Eyes Respond to Eye Irritants

Eyes responding to eye irritants

Our eyes are very sensitive – and that’s a good thing! This sensitivity preserves our vision by protecting our eyes from potential eye irritants.

Still, it can be worrying when eyes go from fine, to itchy and watery in a matter of seconds. Read on to learn about how our eyes respond to irritants.

How Our Eyes Defend Themselves

Many symptoms of eye irritation are our eyes’ natural defenses against both infection and irritation.

When faced with an irritant, our eyes start to tear up. This is the eye trying to flush out the foreign body before it can cause any damage. If the contaminant can’t be flushed out, or if damage has occurred to the surface of the eye, then the eye begins to get swollen, itchy and red. This inflammatory response causes the eye’s blood vessels to swell, speeding up the healing process by allowing antibodies and nutrients to reach the site of irritation more quickly.

Some of the Most Common Eye Irritants

A few of the most common sources of eye irritation are:

Dust and Pollen

Woman blowing dust off a book

Dust and pollen are some of the most frequent causes of red, itchy and watery eyes. This is because allergies are very common – and many allergic reactions involve the eyes.

Allergies happen when the body overreacts to generally benign substances, such as pollen and dust. When an allergic reaction affects the eyes, this is known as allergic conjunctivitis.

Digital Screens

Man looking at bright computer screen

It might be surprising to learn that digital screens are a common cause of eye irritation. However, chronically red, dry and tired eyes are an unavoidable side effect of staring at screens for long periods of time. The reason for this? We blink significantly less when looking at screens.

Contacts Lenses

Finger holding a contact lens

Contact lenses can also be a source of eye irritation. Everyone’s eyes are different, so it makes sense that your contact lenses need to be custom fit to your eyes’ unique shape.

Wearing the wrong contact lenses can cause blurry vision and increase the chance of infection. Wearing lenses from an outdated prescription is similarly hazardous to your eye health.

How to Calm Eye Irritation

In the event of an emergency, your first step should always be to rinse your eyes with lukewarm water to flush out any contaminants. Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this will only exacerbate irritation, and worsen the potential damage caused by the irritant.

If you wear contact lenses, remove them immediately. If you can, inspect the lenses for any cracks or signs of damage. If there are any, don’t put them back in! Place the lenses in a storage case, and contact your eye care professional immediately.

Other Tips for Soothing Irritated Eyes

Always Consult Your Eye Care Professional

Sometimes, eye irritation won’t go away. If you are still experiencing eye irritation, consult your eye care professional immediately. This will help prevent any eye irritants from further damaging your eye.

A Note Worth Remembering

While eye allergies pose little threat to your vision, the symptoms of infection and other more serious conditions can be mistaken for allergic conjunctivitis. Do not hesitate to call your eye care professional if your symptoms do not improve.

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