Red flags 3 - 6
3. Red flag: Bumpy yellowish patches on the eyelid
What it means: Xanthelasma palpebra, the medical name for these tiny yellow bumps, are usually a warning that you may have high cholesterol. They're also called "cholesterol bumps" -- they're basically fatty deposits.
More clues: Sometimes people mistake these bumps for a stye, but with xanthelasma, there tends to be more than one bump and they're quite small.
What to do: See your doctor or a skin or eye specialist. A diagnosis can usually be made by sight. An ophthalmologist can also examine the eye and see deposits; for this reason, in fact, sometimes high cholesterol is first diagnosed during a routine eye exam. The problem usually isn't serious and doesn't cause pain or vision problems. A physician will also evaluate you for other signs of coronary artery disease.
4. Red flag: Burning eyes, blurry vision while using a computer
What it means: You might be a workaholic, and you definitely have "computer vision syndrome" (CVS). The eyestrain is partly caused by the lack of contrast on a computer screen (compared with ink on paper) and the extra work involved in focusing on pixels of light. What's more, by midlife the eyes lose some of their ability to produce lubricating tears. Irritation sets in, adding to blurriness and discomfort.
More clues: Does the problem worsen in the afternoon (when the eyes tend to become drier)? Is it worse when you're reading fine print (more eyestrain)? People who wear glasses or contacts tend to be bothered more by CVS. "Sometimes the problem is made worse by a fan positioned so it blows right in the face," the AAO's Iwach adds, noting that the air further dries tired eyes.
What to do: Reduce glare by closing window shades, investing in a computer hood, or checking out antireflective coating for your glasses (if you wear them). Simply tinkering with the contrast of your screen can help, too. White areas should neither glow brightly like a light source nor appear gray. Flat-panel LCD display screens (like those on laptops) cause less eyestrain than older models. Keep reference material close to the same height as your monitor, giving your eyes a break from having to refocus so much.
5. Red flag: Increasing gunk in the eye
What it means: Blepharitis -- inflammation of the eyelids, especially at the edges -- can have several causes. Two of them, surprisingly, are conditions better associated with other body parts: scalp dandruff and acne rosacea (which causes flushed red skin, usually in the faces of fair-skinned women at midlife).
More clues: The eyes may also feel irritated, as if specks have gotten in them. They may burn, tear, or feel dry. The crusty debris tends to gather in the lashes or the inner corners of the eyes, or even on the lids.
What to do: With clean hands, apply a warm, damp washcloth to the eyes for about five minutes at a time to loosen debris and soothe the skin. See a doctor, who may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or oral antibiotics, as well as artificial tears.
6. Red flag: A small blind spot in your vision, with shimmering lights or a wavy line
What it means: An ocular migraine (also called an "ophthalmic migraine," "optical migraine," or "migraine aura") produces this disturbed vision, with or without an accompanying headache. Changes in blood flow to the brain are thought to be the cause.
More clues: The visual distortion starts in the center of the field of vision. It might appear as a bright dot, dots, or a line that can seem to move and disrupt your ability to see properly, as if you were looking through a pocked or cracked window. It's painless and causes no lasting damage. Individuals seem to have different triggers (ranging from chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol to stress). A headache, possibly severe enough to cause nausea, sometimes follows.
What to do: If you're driving, pull over until the phenomenon passes (usually within an hour). Do have an eye specialist check it out if vision impairment lasts more than an hour or so, to rule out serious problems such as a retinal tear; or if you also experience other symptoms elsewhere that could indicate stroke or seizure (such as fever, loss of muscle strength, or speech impairment).