You Won’t Believe These Freaky Things Can Happen to Your Eyes

You know that annoying sensation you get when an eyelash gets stuck in your eye? If that feeling won’t go away — and there’s no eyelash there to blame — it could be a sign of a number of different eye problems. Even if you take good care of your eyes, everything from sun exposure to immune system disorders to your eyelashes growing in the wrong direction can put your eyesight at risk.

Here are some of the strangest conditions you didn’t know could damage your eyes — and how to prevent these things from happening to you.

1. Eyelashes that grow the wrong way

Eye problems like this are painful, but treatable.

Imagine having an eyelash permanently stuck in your eye, every day, for the rest of eternity. | iStock.com/YakobchukOlena

Having long lashes is fabulous — unless they start growing the wrong way. Trichiasis is an eyelid abnormality that makes a person’s eyelashes grow inward. As a result, they eventually start to rub against the eye, which can lead to severe irritation. If the eyelashes rub against the cornea for too long, they can scratch it or even cause an ulcer. If it’s just one or two, a doctor can remove them quickly with a pair of forceps (ouch). However, if a number of eyelashes are affected, they’ll probably recommend surgery to have them removed permanently.

2. Inflamed eyelids

Eye problems like this begin in the eyelids.

This unfortunate condition has no cure. | iStock.com/Dirima

Inflammation of the eyelids, or blepharitis, occurs when the oil glands at the base of the eyelashes become clogged. When this happens, your eyes become red and irritated, causing symptoms like burning, itchy eyelids, frequent blinking, or the eyelids sticking together (yikes!). The exact cause of this condition is unknown, but it might be associated with allergies, malfunctioning oil glands, or eyelash mites or lice. Unfortunately, most cases of blepharitis are chronic — they cannot be cured, and can prove difficult to treat. Resulting complications range from chronic pink eye to discomfort while wearing contact lenses to corneal damage.

3. Double vision

Many cases of double vision can be treated effectively.

Are you seeing double? | iStock.com/g-stockstudio

Double vision, also known as diplopia, involves seeing two images of a single object instead of one. Astigmatism keratoconus, cataracts, head trauma, dry eye, and diabetes can all cause double vision in one or both eyes. Diplopia treatment largely depends on the cause. In some cases, contacts or glasses are enough to relieve this condition’s only symptom. Surgery and eye therapy used to retrain one or both eyes to move in tandem are also sometimes used to treat double vision.

4. Eye cancer

Cancer develops when cells start dividing uncontrollably.

This type of cancer is most common in children. | iStock.com/YakobchukOlena

This type of cancer,called retinoblastoma, occurs in children, and either presents at birth or develops later in childhood. According to the American Cancer Society, retinoblastoma begins in the retina. The retina is the back part of the eye that processes light and communicates with the optic nerve, which is how we see. As a baby develops in the womb, cells called retinoblasts divide and mature into the light-sensitive nerve cells that make up the retina. Sometimes these cells don’t stop dividing, and instead of maturing into retina cells, they form a tumor in one or both eyes. Retinoblastoma is often treated before it can spread to other tissues, and chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the most common forms of treatment.

5. Trachoma

Eye infections like this one can cause permanent vision loss.

Trachoma is the leading cause of infection-related blindness around the world. | iStock.com/Ridofranz

Trichiasis is sometimes the result of trachoma, a severe bacterial eye infection. According to the World Health Organization, this condition is the world’s leading cause of infection-related blindness. It’s spread most commonly through direct contact with the eye or nose discharge of those infected. Trachoma starts out with mild symptoms of itchiness and irritation, and can progress to symptoms as severe as swollen eyelids, pus, and even blindness. Poor hygiene and unsanitary environments are common risk factors, so it’s not as common in more developed regions of the world. Surgery and antibiotics can help treat the condition, but any blindness resulting from infection is irreversible.

6. Ocular herpes

This type of herpes doesn't just cause cold sores.

Ocular herpes is easily treatable with medication. | iStock.com/andy_Q

Yes, you read that right. The same type of herpes that can cause cold sores on your skin can also infect your eyes. This eye disease often manifests after the herpes simplex virus has been hiding dormant in the nerves of the face for years. It can affect any part of the eye, including your eyelids, but can also cause redness, light sensitivity, and tearing if a blistering rash forms on the surface of the eye. Usually, this condition goes away on its own with the help of antiviral drops or oral medications. Herpes simplex virus itself is contagious, but it’s not very likely that someone who contracts an infection through touch will do so in either or both eyes.

7. Corneal ulcers

Ulcers can form on one of the eye's protective layers.

Does this sound painful to you? It probably is. | iStock.com/cyano66

You’ve probably heard of ulcers along the lining of your stomach, but it’s possible to get them in your eyes, too. Corneal ulcers are open sores on the clear covering that protects your iris and pupil. Infections, as well as severe dry eye, can cause ulcers to form on the eye, which can be extremely painful. You may or may not be able to see a white spot on your eye when you look in the mirror, but other indications of possible ulcers include pain, redness, tearing, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and feeling like there’s something trapped in your eye.

You’re at a greater risk of developing corneal ulcers if you wear contacts, use steroid eye drops, have dry eye, or if you’ve suffered a recent injury to your cornea. Drops are most commonly used to treat the bacterial, fungal, or viral infections causing your ulcer. Protective eyewear is the best way to prevent most cases of corneal ulcers.

8. Hyphema

Any signs of blood collecting in the eye should be treated immediately.

Blood in the eye is usually the result of trauma. | iStock.com/Piksel

A hyphema is a collection of blood in the space between the eye’s cornea and iris. Blood can block the pupil and partially or completely obstruct your vision, and this condition is likely to cause permanent vision problems if left untreated. Usually, the most obvious symptom is visible blood in the eye, but if the hyphema is small enough, you might experience pain or blurred vision without being able to see any abnormalities. There are a number of different treatments depending on your circumstances, including rest, limited eye movement, or steroid drops. Sometimes, a hyphema will heal on its own.

9. Ocular hypertension

If left untreated, this eye problem could lead to more serious issues.

It’s like high blood pressure — it often has no symptoms. | iStock.com/AndreyPopov

The fluid in the front of your eye, called aqueous humor, flows out of your eye as more is made. When this fluid doesn’t drain from your eye properly, pressure builds up, resulting in ocular hypertension, or high eye pressure. Like high blood pressure, ocular hypertension often doesn’t have any symptoms — you could have it and not even know it. Untreated ocular hypertension can eventually cause damage to your optic nerve and affect your vision. That’s why it’s important to have regular annual checkups with an eye doctor to make sure you aren’t at risk for glaucoma or its resulting vision loss. People who are nearsighted, have diabetes, or have a family history of ocular hypertension or glaucoma are at a higher risk of developing this condition.

10. Acanthamoeba keratitis

This is a bacterial infection that often originates in contact lens cases.

Take good care of your contact lenses. | iStock.com/julief514

According to the American Optometric Association, this is considered a co-infection — acanthamoeba bacteria causes keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea. Redness, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and eye inflammation long after removing your contact lenses are all common symptoms. This infection often originates in contact lens cases and is transferred to your eye when you put in your contacts. Proper contact lens hygiene, however, can prevent this from happening. Always wash your hands before putting in or removing your contacts. Always change out your contact solution with every use, don’t clean your contacts with tap water, and never go to sleep without first removing your contact lenses.

11. Nystagmus

Some conditions like this are present at birth.

Eyes aren’t supposed to move like that. | iStock.com/boggy22

The muscles attached to your eyes make it possible for you to look up, down, and to either side. Mostly, you do this voluntarily, even while you’re reading this sentence. In cases of nystagmus, however, the eyes shake or jerk back and forth. This condition can occur in both children and adults as a result of a number of ailments, such as cancer, eye trauma, certain medications, vitamin deficiency, or inner ear problems. Surgeries, medications, and even contact lenses can sometimes treat nystagmus.

12. Eye strokes

Know the signs of an eye stroke and seek immediate treatment.

Strokes happen other places besides your brain. | iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

Blood vessels carry oxygen all throughout your body, and supply blood to your retinas — the parts of your eyes that communicate with your brain. If a blockage of these vessels occurs, an eye stroke — more formally called a retinal artery occlusion — can occur. If you begin to see floaters, experience eye pressure or pain, or your vision becomes blurry or is lost completely, this could be the cause. These symptoms can either occur gradually over hours or days or happen suddenly. An eye stroke can cause increased pressure in the eye, or in some cases, blindness of the affected eye. Doctors can offer a variety of treatments for this condition, including laser treatments and medications.

13. Keratoconus

A cornea transplant is sometimes used to correct this problem.

Something’s not quite right here. | iStock.com/sportpoint

Your cornea, normally dome-shaped, sits at the front of your eye to help protect it and focus the light coming in, sort of like a window. Sometimes, this dome shape starts to shift into more of a cone shape. Keratoconus occurs when the cornea starts to thin out and change shape, which results in blurred vision. Symptoms usually show up during puberty and progress well into adulthood before stabilizing. Over time, the condition can result in scarring and irregular astigmatism, which in severe cases often requires cornea transplants. People with allergies and a small percentage of people with Down’s Syndrome are more likely to develop keratoconus.

14. Sjogren’s syndrome

Dry eyes can be painful, and can cause blurred vision.

A bad immune system can even affect your eyes. | iStock.com/MichalLudwiczak

According to Mayo Clinic, Sjogren’s syndrome is an immune system disorder that commonly co-occurs with conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. People with this condition experience dry eyes and dry mouth, because the mucus membranes and the glands that secrete moisture in your eyes and mouth produce fewer tears and less saliva. Symptoms of this condition include an itching or burning sensation in your eyes, or feeling as though you have grains of sand in your eyes. Without treatment, possible side effects include blurred vision, light sensitivity, or corneal ulcers. Medical professionals can help you treat the symptoms of this condition, but there is no guaranteed cure.

15. Pinguecula

Sun exposure doesn't just affect your skin.

Always wear sunglasses outdoors. | iStock.com/pixdeluxe

Feeling like there’s an unsolicited visitor lounging in one of your eyeballs is a common symptom of a pinguecula. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a pinguecula is a growth on the conjunctiva — a clear covering over the white part of your eye. It’s usually yellow in color and looks like a bump or spot on the side of the eye closest to your nose. Dry eyes, or exposure to UV light, wind, or dust, most commonly cause pinguecula. Thankfully, it’s easily treated with drops — either standard over the counter drops or steroid drops prescribed by your doctor, depending on your level of discomfort. And wearing sunglasses outdoors can help prevent pinguecula from developing in the first place.