The eyes are said to be the window to the soul. They are responsible for our vision, which makes them incredibly important. They are also very delicate, however, and it is all too easy for something to go wrong with the eye. You may be familiar with the feeling of having sand in your eyes, a grittiness and itchiness that is incredibly irritating. Besides the possibility that there actually is a piece of sand in your eye, this could point to a range of other issues as well.
Dry Eye Syndrome
The eyes produce tears, which are seen as simple globules with water and salt that come out in great quantities whenever we experience a strong emotion. However, they are actually far more than that and are highly complex things that play a hugely important role in the overall health of our eye. A tear actually consists of three layers: water, mucus and oil. If there is a disruption in any of those layers, the eyes will feel very dry and irritated. This can be caused by tears evaporating too quickly, or not covering the eye properly. Either way, it often leaves people feeling as if they have sand in their eye. Dry eye syndrome is a very common condition, although it affects women and the elderly more frequently.
If you feel like there is sand in your eye, it is also possible that you simply live in an excessively dry environment. This can point to the climate you live in, or your home or office. For instance, if you use too much heating or air conditioning, if you live somewhere very windy or very hot, in an area with high levels of pollution, or are exposed to smoke, your eyes may start to feel dry and as if there is sand in them. Other environmental factors including frequent pool or sea water exposure, wearing contact lenses and more.
Very few people realize that a feeling of sand in the eye can also be indicative of herpes. If the herpes virus, which is very common in most people, does affect the eye, it only multiplies in the cornea. As a result, keratitis develops, which can be very painful although most people only experience some slight grittiness. Often, blinking is also quite painful and most people experience significant light sensitivity. Usually, vision starts to become blurred and this can lead to a headache as well.
Two types of keratitis exist, as the table below explains.
|Type of Keratitis||Characteristics|
|Epithelial keratitis||A herpes simplex infection whereby only the outermost layer of the cornea’s cells is affected.|
|Stromal keratitis||This happens when epithelial keratitis goes deep inside the cornea. Only around 0.2% of people develop this, and it usually doesn’t start until after they are 30.|
Diagnostics of keratitis is done by examining the eye with a magnifying glass. When doing so, an ophthalmologist will be able to spot an active viral infection, which is usually ulcerated. This is what causes the gritty, sandy feeling in the eye as well.
Medication You Take
It is also possible that you feel like there is sand in your eye because of the medication you take. A number of common prescription and over the counter drugs cause this, including:
- Blood pressure drugs
- Oral contraceptives
- Ulcer medication
- Beta blockers
Interestingly, it is also possible that the gritty feeling is caused by eye drops you use in order to get rid of an eye irritation. This is because many eye drops contain preservatives, which can irritate the eye. Additionally, there are two types of eye drops: those that address redness and those that treat dryness. However, neither addresses both and sometimes one causes the other.
Some people, strangely, sleep with their eyes open. This is not something you would be aware of, unless someone whom you sleep with has pointed it out. Children in particular suffer from nocturnal lagopthalmos, and this can lead to a sandy, gritty feeling in the eyes. In some people, the cornea of the eye remains exposed to the air while they sleep because their eyelids don’t close fully. As the eye doesn’t blink during sleep, the eyes actually dry out and keratitis can develop.
A number of situations can cause lagophthalmos. In children, it is often due to their tissue, and they will outgrow the condition. Sometimes, it is caused in people who have had too much eyelid surgery.
Sjogren’s syndrome is an immune system disorder. Its two main characteristics are having a dry mouth and dry eyes. Usually, people who suffer from Sjogren’s disorder also have other autoimmune diseases, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Most people with the disorder find that their eyes are affected first, as their body slows down the production of tears. Sjogren can develop at any point, but it is most common in those over 40 and in women. There is no cure for the disorder, meaning treatment focuses solely on managing the symptoms.
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis is also known as pink eye, because it makes the eyes look very pink. It happens when an infection or inflammation is present on the conjunctiva, which is the transparent membrane that covers your eyeball’s white part. The infection or inflammation is found in the blood vessels in the eye, making them more pronounced and giving the pink appearance. In most cases, this is as a result of a virus or bacterium, although it can also be caused by allergies. People usually experience it in both eyes due to cross-contamination, as conjunctivitis is highly contagious. While annoying and producing a feeling of grittiness, it is usually not a dangerous condition. Treatment usually focuses on alleviating the symptoms while the inflammation heals itself.
The eyelid may develop a painful, red lump towards the edge, which often looks like a pimple or a boil. This is known as a sty, and it is generally pus-filled. Sometimes, a sty occurs on the inside of the eyelid and this can make you feel as if there is sand in your eye. Usually, a sty starts to go down after a few days without any intervention. Applying a warm compress to the eye may help with the symptoms.
A scratch on the eyeball is known as a corneal abrasion. This can happen because you actually have some sand in your eye, but it can also be due to any other foreign object (including contact lenses) coming in contact with your eye. If the abrasion happened due to a plant material (like a pine needle for instance), it is very important to seek medical attention to avoid delayed iritis, an inflammation inside the eye itself. People with a corneal abrasion often feel as if there is still something in their eye, even if there isn’t The danger is that this may lead them to rub the eye, potentially spreading germs into the abrasion itself, or further tearing the scratch. Infections are very dangerous as they could become ulcerated. This is why, if you believe you have a corneal abrasion, you must perform the following steps and seek medical attention straight away:
- Use a saline solution or otherwise clean water to rinse the eye out. You can do this using a small drinking glass if you don’t have an eye bath, but you must make sure that the glass is completely clean before doing so. If there are eye-rinse stations anywhere near you (common on construction sites, hospitals, and police departments for instance), you should use it.
- Once cleaned, you should carefully blink a few times. This will help your eye to flush out any particles automatically.
- Carefully pull your upper eyelid down over the lower one. This will help to stimulate the Meibomian glands, helping your eye to produce more tears with oily substance, further increasing the chances of any foreign object in your eye to be flushed out.
Of equal importance is that you do not do any of the following, as this could worsen the injury or lead to infections. As such, don’t:
- Try to remove any kind of imbedded object that is in your eye, even if you struggle to close your eyes. This must be done by a professional.
- Rub your eyes in the hopes of removing a foreign object. This may enlarge the abrasion.
- Use instruments like tweezers or cotton swabs to touch your eye.
- Wear your contact lenses at any point during the healing process.
In most cases, a corneal abrasion will clear up in around 48 hours.
Unfortunately, a feeling of grittiness in your eyes may simply mean that you are getting older. Men and women alike find that the production of their tears becomes less as they age. As a result, it is more likely that their eyes also feel dry, gritty, or painful. Hormones play a big part in this, with postmenopausal women being most at risk of developing dry eyes and feelings of sand or grittiness in the eye.
Resources and References:
Causes of Sudden Onset of Gritty Sensation in the Eye – Causes of feeling sand in the eyes. (Right Diagnosis)