Eye health: Minor conditions

There’s a reason why we refer to “the apple of our eye.” Our eyes are precious… and fragile! So many little problems can affect them. Thankfully, pharmacists are trained to help you with most of these minor issues and will refer you to your family doctor or the hospital emergency when necessary. And pharmacists are readily accessible! This article will deal with conjunctivitis, styes, dacryocystitis, blepharitis, chalazion and keratitis.

There’s a reason why we refer to “the apple of our eye.” Our eyes are precious… and fragile! So many little problems can affect them. Thankfully, pharmacists are trained to help you with most of these minor issues and will refer you to your family doctor or the hospital emergency when necessary. And pharmacists are readily accessible!

This article will deal with conjunctivitis, styes, dacryocystitis, blepharitis, chalazion and keratitis.

Conjunctivitis Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, a fine and transparent mucous membrane that lines the inner eyelids and most of the eyeball. It can be caused by allergies, trauma, chemical exposure, or a viral or bacterial infection. It is usually characterized by redness in one or both eyes, lachrymation, eyelid swelling or itchiness. Based on the presentation of the conjunctivitis and how the condition developed, the pharmacist can identify its most probable cause.

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis commonly develop soon after a cold or airway infection. Viral conjunctivitis features a watery discharge, while bacterial conjunctivitis is associated with purulent and coloured secretions. These types of infection are very contagious, so it is very important for affected individuals and their families to wash their hands thoroughly and avoid touching their eyes. In addition, children who are believed to suffer from bacterial conjunctivitis should remain home for the first 24 hours of treatment.

Regardless of the type of conjunctivitis, applying cold compresses and using artificial tears can help relieve the irritation and discomfort. When pharmacists suspect a case of bacterial conjunctivitis, they may recommend the use of antibiotics (eye drops or ointment). These medicines are available without a doctor’s prescription, but only upon a pharmacist’s professional recommendation. These antibiotic products are effective for treating most cases of bacterial conjunctivitis. Ophthalmic drops or ointments should only be used to treat a single episode of conjunctivitis and should be discarded afterwards in order to avoid getting recontaminated when next using them. The other types of conjunctivitis can be treated with different products; it is best to discuss the matter with your pharmacist in order to determine which product is most recommended in your case. If you wear contact lenses, you should avoid wearing them until the infection is fully cleared.

Styes and dacryocystitis A stye is an eye gland inflammation, which causes a small bump to form. It most commonly forms outside the eyelid, although in some cases it can affect the inner eyelid. Associated discomfort can be relieved by applying warm wet compresses. Do not squeeze a stye. Do not wear eye makeup or contact lenses until the stye is healed. The problem usually goes away on its own within a week.

Sometimes it is the lachrymal sac that gets infected and a bump forms in the inner corner of the eye. This is what we call dacryocystitis.

If a stye or dacryocystitis has not disappeared after a week, or if the accompanying redness and swelling spread beyond the eyelid, it is recommended that you see a physician.

Blepharitis and chalazion Blepharitis develops when the small oil glands at the base of the eyelashes don’t function properly, causing eyelid irritation, inflammation and itching. It is characterized by eyes that are red, irritated, teary and oily-looking, and by dandruff on the lids. It may cause the loss or abnormal regrowth of eyelashes. While blepharitis may be uncomfortable and unsightly, it is not dangerous.

Blepharitis rarely disappears completely and it often relapses. Treatment must therefore be long term! In most cases, the only necessary treatment may be to clean the eyelids daily with warm wet compresses, or when necessary with baby shampoo or a solution designed especially for this purpose. Some people may also benefit from antibiotic drops or ointments, or from products designed to treat dry eyes.

If a gland at the base of the eyelids gets blocked and infected, a chalazion may develop. A chalazion is a small tumour on the inside of the lid. It is usually more prominent than a stye, but the treatment is the same in both cases.

Keratitis Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea, which is the transparent fibrous membrane that covers the pupil and iris. As is the case with conjunctivitis, keratitis can have various infectious or non-infectious causes. If left untreated, keratitis can cause permanent damage to your vision.

If your eyes are more sensitive than usual or are having trouble tolerating the light (photophobia), if they are painful or your visual acuity is affected, you must get a medical evaluation, as these symptoms may point to a more serious eye problem.

Preventing eye problems The eye problems mentioned above can all be prevented by applying proper eye hygiene, including:
- washing hands frequently and avoiding touching your eyes,
- avoiding going to bed with makeup on,
- throwing out old makeup periodically.

Contact lenses are very convenient, but bear in mind that you must follow a strict lens hygiene regimen in order to prevent the eye problems they can cause, such as keratitis. Here are some elements that must not be neglected:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before handling contact lenses.
- Remove contact lenses before going to bed (even extended wear lenses).
- Change your contact lenses according to the schedule recommended by your optometrist.
- Use only sterile solutions designed for cleaning the type of lenses you wear. Tap water and saliva contains a lot of bacteria that are harmless when swallowed but that can be dangerous to our eyes.
- Change your contact lens case every three to six months.
- Change the soaking solution completely after every use.

When consulting your pharmacist about an eye problem, here are some questions that may come up: Is this the first time you have this problem? When did the problem start? Are you noticing any improvement or worsening? Does the light bother you? Have you tried any treatments? Does it hurt when you blink? Have you had any other type of infection in the last few days? Think about these questions ahead of time, as your answers will help the pharmacist guide you.

Don’t forget that your eyes are fragile: a problem that may seem minor at first glance could lead to unfortunate consequences if left untreated. Your pharmacists are there to help you: take advantage of their proximity and accessibility!

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