What do people mean by ‘gritty eyes’?
Your eyes are a delicate organ, and often even the smallest irritation can significantly interfere with your day.
One common complaint I often hear about is having ‘gritty eyes’, or a ‘sandy’ feeling in the eyes. People can often describe their gritty eyes as feeling dry, itchy and irritated, or as though there is a bit of sand or grit in the eyes. In some cases they may also be sensitive to light. This feeling can be associated with a number of problems and conditions, as I detail below.
What is causing your gritty eyes?
The most common cause of a gritty feeling in the eyes is simply that your eyes are too dry. There are a number of reasons why this might happen, from cold, windy weather to air conditioning and central heating. One common cause is staring at a computer, laptop or TV for too long, and this is because when we focus on a close-up or static object we tend to blink less; and blinking is vital to spread moisture across the eyes, so the less you blink, the drier your eyes will become.
Dry eyes can also be caused by medical conditions such as Nocturnal Lagophthalmos, where the eyes remain open during sleep, or Thyroid eye disease, an autoimmune disease where your tear glands can be attacked. If your eyes feel particularly dry, gritty or painful, you should make an appointment with your GP or optician.
One common symptom of infective conjunctivitis is a gritty feeling in the eyes. When an eye becomes infected it becomes inflamed and irritated, and a thick discharge is often produced, and these things can contribute to a gritty feeling in the eye.
Blepharitis is a condition where the outer edges of the eyelids become inflamed. Like conjunctivitis, this can cause irritation that often feels gritty.
Unclean contact lenses
If you wear contact lenses and don’t clean them properly then they may cause a gritty feeling, either because they are beginning to dry your eyes out, or because dirt and dust have become trapped under the lens.
Poor makeup hygiene
If you go too long without removing eye makeup, particularly if you go to bed without removing makeup, then chemicals from the makeup can make their way inside your eye, causing irritation. Small particles of makeup can also find their way into your eye, which will cause a gritty feeling in the same way that having actual grit in your eye would. This leads me onto my final point...
Having grit (or something else) in your eye
That gritty feeling could be exactly that: grit! Well, not just grit – any number of small particles can make their way inside your eye, including plant material, dirt, dust and fumes. This is particularly common on windy days, or while working in dirty or dusty environments.
So what can you do about it?
The method you choose to tackle your gritty eyes really depends on what is causing it.
One thing that will help in most situations, however, are lubricant eye drops. This will help moisten the eye and flush out dirt, debris and discharge. A.Vogel Eye Drops contain a herb called Euphrasia which has been traditionally used to promote eye health for hundreds of years. The drops themselves are free from preservatives, because the unique style of the dropper keeps them sterile. And another bonus – you can use them while wearing contact lenses!
Other things you can try are:
- Try to reduce the amount of time you spend using laptops, tablets, smartphones and TVs, as staring at these devices quickly dries the eyes out
- Pop a post-it note next to your computer screen reminding you to blink – you wouldn’t think you’d need to be reminded to blink, but it’s amazing how little we blink when using computers!
- Try to reduce your use of air conditioning where possible, and open a window instead to let fresh air into your home or office
- Use an eye wash (which you can buy from a chemist) to flush dirt out of the eye. This will also greatly help in the case of conjunctivitis.
- Ensure you are following the correct cleaning and replacement procedure for your contact lenses. Try to avoid wearing them for long periods of time – for example, try to take them out after work for an hour before you go out again in the evening.
- Remove makeup when you don’t need it anymore i.e once you get in from work, uni or a day out. Always make sure to remove it before you go to bed with a gentle cleanser or makeup remover. For more tips, read my article on good makeup hygiene for eye health.
If your symptoms do not improve, or if you suspect an infection that isn’t going away, consult your doctor. In addition, if you experience pain or blurred vision in one or both of your eyes, you should seek urgent medical assistance.