Red Eyes

Information on the causes of red eyes and other red eye symptoms.

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  1. What Are Red Eyes?
  2. Diagnosing Red Eyes
  3. What Causes Red Eyes?
  4. Help for Red Eyes
  5. More Information about Red Eyes

What Are Red Eyes?

You may wake up one morning and suddenly find that your eyes are red, or you may be experiencing increasing eye redness and irritation for several days. More than just looking unattractive, red eyes are usually uncomfortable and accompanied by burning, blurring of vision, itchiness and tearing. Eye redness is sometimes due to dryness of the eyes as well.

A common type of eye redness is called conjunctivitis. The tiny blood vessels of the eyeball and the mucus membranes surrounding the eyes enlarge and appear red. The mucus membranes are called the conjunctiva. Conjunctivitis means inflammation of the conjunctiva or mucus membranes around the eyes. There are three main types of conjunctivitis – viral, allergic and bacterial.

An unrelated type of eye redness sometimes occurs as a result of a small blood vessel within the eye breaking. This kind of eye redness appears completely different than conjunctivitis or redness due to dry eyes. With this kind of eye redness, a small patch of bleeding within the membrane of the eye is visible. It is usually painless and disappears without intervention. If it is due to an injury or accompanied by visual changes or pain in the eye, consult with your eye care specialist or health care provider for guidance.

How Are Red Eyes Diagnosed?

Health care providers rely on the history that you provide as well as an examination of the eye area to make a diagnosis. If your eye redness is accompanied by other symptoms, then a more detailed workup of your entire body and diagnostic testing may be required.

Your health care provider will ask you if the onset of the redness was rapid or slow. He or she will inquire about when the symptoms first occurred and if you have any other symptoms in addition to the eye redness. Itching, burning and watering of the eyes is common when eye redness is present, but some people experience dryness instead of watering. Diagnosis is frequently made upon the basis of the symptoms you report.

Your health care practitioner will examine your eyes. If drainage is present, he or she may culture the drainage using a cotton swab if an infection is suspected.

What Causes Red Eyes?

There are several causes of eye redness. Eyes may be red due to allergies or exposure to irritants such smoke and other pollutants, or due to fatigue or computer work. Infections, illness and injuries may also precipitate eye redness, as well as lack of tear production. A foreign body in the eye will also cause the affected eye to redden.

Eyes redden as part of the immune response of the body. When an irritant of any kind is exposed to the eye, the body has a biochemical reaction which releases substances that engulf and deactivate the offending agent. Circulation to the eye area increases and redness occurs as a result.

Sometimes, an overactive response of the body produces redness, irritation, burning and even blurring of vision. If redness is recurrent or severe, a health care professional should be consulted to make an accurate diagnosis.

Help for Red Eyes

Treatment of eye redness depends on the causes of the redness and accompanying symptoms. Conventional and alternative practitioners recommend similar methods of treatment.

Eye drops are the most common recommendation, although sometimes eye washes are used. Ointments or antihistamine medications may be prescribed, and antibiotics may be used if an infection is present.

The important factors in treating eye redness are to eliminate the cause of the redness and promote comfort. Conventional medications may eliminate symptoms yet not eliminate the underlying problems that cause the redness. Alternative treatments support the health of the eyes while eliminating the cause of the redness. Often a multifaceted approach is best, especially when there are additional symptoms.

Additional Information about Red Eyes

  • Keep hands away from your eyes. Practice regular hand washing to prevent infection and reduce the likelihood of introducing irritants into your system.
  • Follow instructions carefully when using eye drops and washes. Do not touch the tip of the container when applying drops. Some eye drops need refrigeration. Replace eye drops regularly to prevent bacterial growth.
  • If you have eye problems, consult your health care provider.
  • Get regular eye exams. Eyestrain is a frequent cause of redness.
  • As people mature, visual changes are common. Tear production changes may result in eye redness.

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