No one wants to look in the mirror and see a pair of red eyes staring back at them. While red eyes are often caused by harmless reactions to dust or allergens, there are times when inflamed eyes may signal a need to see an eye doctor. In this article, we’ll explore some of the common conditions that can cause our eyes to turn red and what we can do about them.
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What Causes Eye Redness?
Research shows that a significant number of people visiting primary care physicians and emergency rooms do so because of eye issues, with red eyes being the most common complaint. Here are six conditions that can cause eye irritation and redness:
Dry Eye and Allergies
Do you often experience a burning, itchy, or gritty feeling in your eyes? If so, you may be dealing with dry eyes, a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough tears. Tears provide a protective film over our eyes, and when their production decreases, our eyes can become red and uncomfortable, especially when exposed to allergens or irritants.
Apart from allergens, factors like weather, computer screen use, medications, and surgeries can contribute to dry eyes. The condition also tends to become more common as we age.
Treatment: The good news is that over-the-counter artificial tear drops can provide immediate relief by lubricating the eyes. Allergy drops can also help reduce symptoms if your dry eye symptoms are caused by allergens. However, be cautious about using eye drops marketed to reduce redness as they may worsen your dry eyes over time.
Broken Blood Vessels
Broken blood vessels on the surface of the eye, known as subconjunctival hemorrhage, can appear alarming but are usually harmless and painless. These broken vessels can be caused by straining during coughs, sneezes, or bowel movements, head or eye injuries, rubbing your eyes too aggressively, or certain medications.
Treatment: In most cases, broken blood vessels on the eye heal naturally within a week or two. Artificial tear drops can help soothe any irritation. However, if you experience pain, it is best to consult an eye doctor.
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is a common eye infection that is highly contagious, especially among young children. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, irritants like chlorine, or allergies. Pink eye is characterized by a reddish-pink color in the white part of the eye, itching, burning, puffy eyelids, and a goopy discharge that can cause crusting on the eyelashes and eyelids.
Treatment: Mild to moderate cases of pink eye usually clear on their own within a week. Using nonprescription artificial tears can help alleviate itching and burning. However, if the symptoms persist or worsen, it’s important to see a doctor who may prescribe antibiotics to reduce the duration of the infection and prevent its spread to others.
Bacteria, viruses, allergies, fungi, or parasites can cause eye infections, which can sometimes be spread to the eyes by rubbing them with contaminated hands. Serious infections may result in pain, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and potentially permanent damage to the eyes.
Treatment: It is recommended to see an eye doctor within a few days if signs of an eye infection appear. Immediate attention is especially crucial for contact lens wearers suspected of having an infection.
Uveitis is a group of eye diseases characterized by inflammation within the eye. It can cause red eyes, light sensitivity, blurred vision, pain, and dark floaters in the field of vision. Smoking, eye injuries, infections, inflammatory diseases, or unknown causes can lead to uveitis.
Treatment: It’s important to seek immediate medical attention from an eye doctor if uveitis symptoms occur. Early treatment can limit tissue damage and potentially restore any lost vision.
Closed-angle glaucoma is a rare condition where the fluid within the eyes fails to drain properly, resulting in a sudden rise in pressure. Red eyes may be a visible symptom, accompanied by severe eye pain, headaches, nausea, and cloudy vision. Age and a family history of closed-angle glaucoma increase the risk of this condition.
Treatment: Closed-angle glaucoma is considered an emergency that requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent vision loss.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience pain, increased light sensitivity, or blurred vision along with red eyes, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. Additionally, if you have persistent dryness, redness, or any unusual eye symptoms lasting more than a day, consulting an eye doctor is recommended. Remember, red eyes can be caused by a wide range of conditions, some of which may require urgent care. Don’t ignore any concerning symptoms, as there could be something serious going on.
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