Sight is one of our most precious senses. Unfortunately, for being such important organs, we often do not treat our eyes very well. Many people sleep, swim, and shower in their contact lenses without taking them out for days or weeks at a time. Protective eye gear is often not worn when it should be, leading to painful and unnecessary eye injuries.

This is especially true for students, whose sleep schedules often consist of intermittent naps between classes, work, and extracurricular activities. It may seem silly or inconvenient to take your contacts out for a four hour nap or a quick game of Frisbee on campus, but it’s important to take care of your eyes and give them a break every once in a while. So we were wondering what are some weirder and cringe inducing eye conditions that can happen too many of us but can be prevented? We asked Dr. Silverman, Medical Director and LASIK surgeon at EyeCare20/20 in New Jersey for some interesting and little known eye conditions we could write (and get freaked out) about.

Here are six eye conditions you’ve never heard about and how to prevent them:

1. Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Although it is rare, acanthamoeba keratitis is most commonly found in contact lens wearers. Acanthamoebae are microscopic organisms found in tap water, well water, pools, and hot tubs that can infect the corneal layer of the eye. Most of the time our bodies are able to fight off this bacteria, but if you sleep, swim, or shower while wearing your contacts without properly cleaning and caring for them, you run the risk of turning your lenses into petri dishes swimming in these microscopic parasites.

Symptoms of acanthamoeba keratitis include eye pain, excessive tear production, blurry vision, light sensitivity, red or swollen eyes, and the feeling that there is something in your eye. Though treatment options are still being explored, this infection is usually treated with oral medications and/or medicated eye drops. In some cases in which the bacteria have perforated the inner layers of the cornea, surgery may be necessary. If left untreated, this ocular infection can lead to permanent blindness.

Acanthamoeba keratitis recently made the news when reports surfaced about a Taiwanese student who developed the infection after wearing a pair of disposable contacts for six months straight, even while sleeping or swimming. Unfortunately, she did not seek treatment quickly enough and ended up losing both of her eyes to the infection. As terrible as it is, this should serve as a warning to other contact lens wearers, especially other students: Always keep your contacts clean and NEVER sleep or swim while wearing them.

Herterochromia
Image: Creative Commons Flickr

2. Heterochromia iridum

Heterochromia iridum is a genetic condition in which the irises contain more than one color. It occurs as the result of varying amounts of melanin in one or both eyes. Complete heterochromia is when one iris is a completely different color than the other, as seen in the cat in the picture. Partial heterochromia occurs when a portion of the iris is a different color than the rest of it, like we see with actresses Mila Kunis and Kate Bosworth. Central heterochromia is a form of partial heterochromia in which there is a ring around the pupil that is a different color than the rest of the iris. Because heterochromia results from a lack of pigmentation rather than infection injury, it poses no threat to your eyes or sight.

3. Photo keratitis.

Likened to having sunburn on your eye, photo keratitis is a painful condition caused by overexposure to ultraviolet rays. Though it usually occurs as a result of sunlight reflecting off of snow, the UV rays that form an electrical arc while welding can also cause photo keratitis. For these reasons, this condition is also known as snow blindness, arc eye, and welder’s flash.

Symptoms of photo keratitis include watery eyes, sensitivity to light, eye pain, constricted pupils, and involuntary twitching of the eyelids. It can be prevented by wearing proper eye protection at all times, especially when welding or mountaineering. Anesthetic eye drops can be used as a temporary pain relief, but permanent treatment for photo keratitis includes cool compresses, sunglasses, eye patches, anti-inflammatory eye drops, and the temporary discontinuation of contact lens use. If treated, photo keratitis heals in 1-3 days and poses no long-term threat to your eyesight.

Pinguecula
Image: Wikipedia

4. Pinguecula. 

Pingueculae are small, yellow, non-cancerous growths on the outer corneal layer of the eye. They are found most commonly in adults between the ages of 20-50 and are thought to be the result of overexposure to wind, dust, UV rays, pollution, and other environmental factors. Fortunately, pingueculae do not grow across the cornea and usually stay on the white part of your eye, the sclera, making them easy to find and identify.

Though they do not affect vision, pingueculae can become irritated and make it difficult to wear contact lenses. If that’s the case, it is usually treated with anesthetic or anti-inflammatory eye drops. Though many people have theirs surgically removed for cosmetic purposes, pingueculae pose no long-term damage to the safety of your eye if left untreated.

Pterygium
Image: Wikipedia

5. Pterygium. 

Given their many similarities, it is no surprise that pterygia are often confused with pingueculae. Like a pinguecula, a pterygium is a non-cancerous growth on the outer layer of the eye. Pterygia are also found mostly in adults between the ages of 20-50 and are thought to develop in response to exposure to wind, dust, UV rays, and other airborne irritants. Its symptoms are also very similar to that of a pinguecula: dry eye, inflammation, blurry vision, reddening or swelling of the eye, and difficulty wearing contact lenses.

However, unlike pingueculae, pterygia can grow across the cornea and affect visual acuity, as seen in the photo above. For this reason, it is important to seek treatment if you think you may have pterygia. Although they are usually treated with medicated eye drops, well-developed pterygia may require surgery. To prevent pterygia, remember to always wear eye protection when you are out in the sun or working in a dusty environment.

Traumatic Iritis
Image Wikipedia

6. Traumatic iritis

Traumatic iritis is an inflammation of the iris due to blunt force trauma to the eye. Ocular injuries from electric shock, fireworks, pellet guns, and motor vehicle accidents can also cause traumatic iritis. Considering its most frequent causes, it should come as no surprise that this type of eye injury is most common among young people and men.

Symptoms of traumatic iritis include eye pain, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, misshapen pupils, headache, red or swollen eyes, and blurry vision. If you suspect you may have an eye injury, you should go see a doctor immediately in order to avoid permanent damage. Traumatic iritis is usually treated with medicated eye drops and over-the-counter pain medications, though surgery may be necessary for more severe cases. You can avoid this injury by always wearing the proper eye safety gear.

By now, the moral of the story should be pretty clear: Whether you’re walking to class, biking to work, skiing during winter break, or sailing on Spring Break, remember to always wear (eye) protection. Be safe and ensure healthy eyes and great vision for many years to come.

BIO: Hayley Irvin is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. When she’s not creating awesome content for Marketing Zen Group & Eyecare2020 , she’s writing about basketball, learning about space, and thwarting her cats’ attempts to take over the world. Catch up with her on Twitter @HayleyNIrvin.