Should you be worried about red eye?

There are a significant number of causes of red eye, and the most common is having dry eyes. The eye is a delicate organ and is sensitive to both external and internal factors. Red eyes arise due to the blood vessels of the whites of the eye dilating in response to some sort of exacerbation.
 
Here we will go through some of the many causes of red eye and what we can do about them.

Allergies

Hay fever and other allergies to pet dander and dust mites are a well-known cause of red eye. Typically accompanied by other allergy symptoms such as itching, watery eyes, and sneezing. Red eyes are also caused by allergy or hypersensitivity to certain eye medications. For example, anti-glaucoma drops or the preservatives contained within any other eye drop.
 
Antihistamines, either oral tablets or eye drops, can be useful against hay fever or similar allergies. In very severe allergies such as atopic keratoconjunctivitis, stronger steroids may be required. If the red eyes are a result of sensitivity to topical eye medications, it is best to speak to your prescribing eye care practitioner to see what alternatives may be suitable for you.

Dry eyes

Irritation from dry eye is one of the most common causes of a red eye. Dry eye disease is a complex condition and involves a degree of inflammation on the surface of the eye. It may be exacerbated by other factors such as the environment or blepharitis. A condition involving inflammation of the eyelids and accumulation of irritants around the eyelashes. Treating dry eye can be complicated, but a good place to start is tear lubricants. You can purchase these off the shelf at pharmacies or supermarkets. 

Injury

Physical trauma to the eye can cause a red eye. This may be blunt trauma, such as a ball to the eye socket, or a sharper injury, such as a fingernail scratch. Chemical burns may come from accidental splashes or spills of acidic or alkaline chemicals. Including common household cleaners. Any significant trauma to the eye, such as a high-speed blunt injury or chemical burn, should be treated immediately as an emergency

Infection

There are a range of red eye infections. From common conjunctivitis to a sight-threatening infection of the cornea, known as keratitis. Infections causing red eyes may come from bacterial causes, viral, fungal, or even parasitic.
 
Contact lens wearers who experience red eye should immediately remove their lenses and see an eye care practitioner. As eye infections tend to be more severe in contact lens wearers. Red eyes can be accompanied by changes to vision and/or discharge from the eye. Whether mucous, pus or watery discharge, you should see an eye care practitioner for proper diagnosis and treatment

Inflammation

Inflammation of various structures of the eye can all cause red eyes as a symptom. These include uveitis, episcleritis, and scleritis. Most of these conditions are associated with pain and light sensitivity but may not be in all cases. Examination by an eye care practitioner will allow proper diagnosis and treatment. Often involving anti-inflammatory eye drops or tablets. In some cases, these conditions may require referral to a GP for further testing. 

Subconjunctival Haemorrhage

This can involve a sudden, alarming presentation of a very red eye, usually in one section of the whites of one eye. There is usually no pain or any significant discomfort, but a patient may mention being able to feel some swelling in the eye. A subconjunctival haemorrhage is a result of a burst blood vessel beneath the clear membrane (conjunctiva) overlying the whites of the eye. Blood becomes trapped in this space and gives the appearance of a bloodshot, red eye.
 
Such cases often occur with no known preceding trauma. However, sometimes activities such as strong sneezing, vomiting, or coughing are the case. The blood will clear away itself in a matter of days, depending on the size of the haemorrhage. Applying a warm compress may help it to resolve more quickly

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About the expert

Dr Anton van Heerden, MBCHB; FRANZCO
Ophthalmologist & Laser Eye Surgeon

Based in Melbourne, but with a reputation that transcends borders, Dr Van Heerden sets the highest bar for laser vision correction surgery in Australia. While his skills and experience are second to none, it is his fun, caring and down to earth nature that truly set’s him apart from the rest. You can sit back and enjoy the journey knowing every detail has been carefully considered.

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