Why are My Eyes Red?
Welcome to a new series called “Answering Your Questions!” We aim to respond to some of the questions we often hear from our patients at the office. Our first is called:
Why Are My Eyes Red?
As you might imagine this is a question we often hear and red eyes are a problem we commonly treat in our office.
Of course, if your eyes are red you should seek an evaluation by an eye care practitioner as soon as possible, especially if there is any blurriness, discomfort or discharge, and this article is only intended to offer general information about red eyes.
Eyes usually are red for one or more of the following reasons:
- Bacterial Infection
- Viral Infection
- Dry Eyes
- Injury or Foreign Body
- Contact Lens Related Irritation
- Broken Blood Vessel
Redness from bacteria is often accompanied by mucous discharge. The eyes can be “matted” and difficult to open upon awakening. Treatment is typically with antibiotics (drops or oral treatment).
Eyes with viral infections have varying degrees of discomfort and are often watery and can be light sensitive. Some viruses respond to treatment with drops or oral medications. Others are like the cold virus and we can only use medications to alleviate symptoms while we wait for the body’s immune system to do its job.
Allergies can come from accidentally touching the eye with an offending substance or from airborne particles (like pollen). Allergy eyes are often itchy and can be swollen and watery. Any mucous is often clear or very light colored. Treatments include cold compresses, eye drops, and oral antihistamines.
Dry eyes affect all kinds of people but are more common in women and people over age 40. The most common symptoms include a gritty sandy feeling and interestingly, wateriness. Symptoms can be worse later in the day, in low humidity environments, and with certain activities like extended computer use. Treatments range from using prescription or non-prescription eye drops, gels or ointments, eyelid massage and heat therapy, and even minor surgical techniques for blocking drainage of the tears.
Injury of Foreign Body
This cause of redness is self-explanatory and obviously any significant redness from injury or possible foreign body in the eye needs to be evaluated by an eye doctor.
Contact Lens Related Irritation
Fortunately sight-threatening complications from contact lenses are not common but can be serious and have the potential to cause permanent scarring and vision loss. If the contact lenses are making the eyes red or uncomfortable they should be removed and the situation needs to be addressed with an eye care practitioner. This is one reason we insist our contact lens patients have “back up” glasses.
An inflamed eye is typically one that is red, sore, and light sensitive. The underlying cause may be obvious like an injury or infection or it may be difficult to explain. Treatments often include steroid or other anti-inflammatory eye drops or oral medications. Sometimes blood work or a medical evaluation is ordered to see if there is an undiagnosed disease process causing the inflammation. Untreated inflammation on the front surfaces of the eye can move deeper into the eye making it more difficult to treat and more likely to cause vision loss. Eyes that are sore and light sensitive should be seen by an eye doctor as soon as possible.
Broken Blood Vessel
This is perhaps the most dramatic red eye, as a portion of the eye will typically appear to be solid bright red. Usually there is very little, if any discomfort and no blurred vision. Hemorrhages on the ocular surface can occur spontaneously or can be associated with a number of causes including injury, heavy exertion, coughing, or vomiting. Medical conditions like anemia or high blood pressure can also be a cause, especially if one has multiple episodes. These red spots on the eyes can take from a few days to a few weeks to clear up. We often draw the comparison between a bloody nose and an ocular surface hemorrhage because it can be quite dramatic, usually isn’t serious, but can indicate a deeper problem so we recommend having these checked by your eye doctor.
Regular eye examinations and proper care of contact lenses will help keep your eyes white, quiet, and happy but the occasional red eye episodes do happen. When they do, don’t hesitate to contact our office for advice and guidance.