Managing common eye problems

Managing common eye problems


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Dry eye

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition affecting 15-33% of those aged over 65 years. Prevalence increases with age. It is 50% more common in women than in men.

What is dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome occurs when the surface of the cornea is not kept moist enough by tears. Every time the eye blinks the eyelid spreads tears across the surface of the eye. If tear production is reduced or inhibited in some way, eyes will dry out which can cause painful irritation.

Diabetics have a 50/50 chance of suffering from the condition and half of all contact lens wearers experience symptoms of dry eye syndrome. The elderly are also a high-risk group with one in seven people aged 65 and over suffering.

Women are also more likely to be affected by the condition, which is often prevalent during menopause. Other causes of dry eye include side effects to medicines, illness and damage to the eyelid caused by disease or injury.

Common symptoms

  • a sandy-gritty irritation that gets worse as the day goes on
  • dryness
  • a burning sensation
  • itchy, red or tired eyes
  • a feeling that there may be dust in the eye


A pharmacist or GP can diagnose dry eye syndrome. An optician can also diagnose this during a routine sight test.

They may use a slit lamp to examine the cornea and check that it is sufficiently moist.


Treatment is relatively straightforward, including artificial tears and eye ointments to soothe and lubricate the eye. Over-the-counter sprays that help re-establish the film of tears and prevent loss of moisture are also available. As well as treating the condition with drops or artificial tears, sufferers can minimise the symptoms of dry eye by making some small changes to their lifestyle.

These include:

  • Eating a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Keeping hydrated - Drink plenty of fluids (at least two litres a day)
  • Avoiding air conditioned atmospheres where the air is artificially dry


Yellow plaques on the eyelids 

Flat yellow patches (plaques) over the upper or lower eyelids are called xanthelasma. Although these plaques are harmless, they may indicate high cholesterol. Making changes to diet and taking medication may be recommended to reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of serious problems in the future, although these may not improve the plaques. 

Speak to your pharmacist or GP if you have any concerns.


Burst blood vessel in the eye

Straining or coughing can sometimes cause a blood vessel to burst on the eye surface, causing a bright red blotch. This is called a subconjunctival haemorrhage. It can look alarming, especially if medication such as aspirin or warfarin (these reduce the blood’s ability to clot, which can exaggerate the redness) is being taken, but should clear up on its own within a few weeks

Speak to your pharmacist or GP if you have any concerns.


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