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Eye problems should never be ignored because they could lead to vision loss. Generally, if you experience eye pain, changes in vision, continual redness or eye irritation, you should make an appointment with a physician or eye doctor to help ensure that a serious medical problem does not exist. However, there are several minor eye problems that can be self-treated.

DRY EYE: Dry eye is common, especially in older people. It causes the eye to feel uncomfortable, itchy, or to burn. It may also blur your vision or make you feel as though sand or dirt is in your eye. Dry eye is usually due to a minor problem, such as tear deficiency, dry air or medications, such as antihistamines. However its cause may be serious. For this reason, nonprescription artificial tear products should only be used for 72 hours without seeing a physician. The products may contain several ingredients to help eyes feel more comfortable. They are used in a dose of 1-2 drops as needed, but twice a day is usually preferred. Some eye drops (Bion Tears, Tears Naturale) have celluloses, which help them last longer. After placing the drops in your eye, you may feel residues around your eyelashes. These are leftover chemicals that help the products work and are easily wiped away. However, if the crusting bothers you, tear products that do not contain any celluloses (Tear Plus, Murine Tears) are available. Eye ointments (Bausch & Lomb Moisture Eyes PM, Refresh P.M., Lacri-Lube S.O.P.) also help keep eyes moist. These products may blur the vision and are best used at bedtime.

LOOSE FOREIGN MATERIAL IN THE EYE: Occasionally, loose material, such as pieces of windblown dirt or an eyelash, enters the eye. The matter is usually easy to remove, but it may persist. If so, certain nonprescription products may be useful. Eyewashes (Bausch & Lomb Eye Wash, Collyrium for Fresh Eyes) are used by dropping the product into the eye or squirting it across the eye as you are bending over a sink.

REDNESS OF THE EYE DUE TO MINOR IRRITATION: Your eyes may be red and bloodshot from staying up too late, being exposed to chlorinated water or pollutants, or being around smokers. Since eye redness can indicate a serious condition, such as glaucoma or an infection, you should see a physician or eye doctor if it lasts longer than 72 hours. Products to help reduce or eliminate redness (Clear Eyes, Visine, OcuClear) contain chemicals that shrink the swollen blood vessels and should not be used if you have narrow-angle glaucoma. Similasan Eyedrops #1 contains no chemicals.

ALLERGIES: When your body reacts to an allergen, such as pollen or an animal, your eyes may be affected. They may become watery, red, and burn and itch. Eye drops containing an antihistamine and redness agent (such as Opcon-A, OcuHist, Naphcon A or Vasocon-A) can help treat these symptoms.

If you have any doubt as to whether your eye problems are serious, consult your pharmacist. He or she can tell you when you should see a doctor or can recommend OTC products if your symptoms are minor enough for you to treat them yourself.

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