A red eye can occur for many different reasons. In some cases, red “bloodshot” eyes are simply a sign of mild irritation; other times, red eyes can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Below is a non-comprehensive list of just some of the common causes of eye redness.
Environmental Causes of Red Eye
In most cases, bloodshot and red eyes are simply the eyes reaction to something in the environment. Allergens such as pollen or dust can cause the eyes to be red and itchy, particularly in the warm pollen-heavy seasons. Dry climates or heavily air-conditioned environments can also cause the eyes to become red and irritated by causing tears to quickly evaporate. Even smoke or air pollution can make your eyes bloodshot. Luckily, redness from these environmental causes are rarely serious. Most can be solved simply by avoiding the causative environment.
“Pink Eye” Infections
“Pink eye” is the well-known term for an eye infection known as by eye care professionals as conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis can be caused by several different culprits. Viral conjunctivitis is, as the name suggests, caused by a virus, and is sometimes associated with an upper respiratory infection or the common cold. In viral conjunctivitis, the eye will typically be watery and itchy with moderate light sensitivity, in addition to being red and uncomfortable. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, but will eventually resolve on its own.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is rarer than viral, but has the potential to cause serious damage to the front of the eye if it is left untreated. Bacterial conjunctivitis presents as a red eye that is accompanied by thick yellow discharge and moderate discomfort. This type of pink eye needs to be treated with an antibiotic drop.
Red Eye in Contact Lens Wearers
Over-wearing or sleeping in contact lenses can cause the eye to become irritated and blood shot, but a red eye in a contact lens wearer may be a sign of a more serious problem. Corneal ulcers, caused by a bacteria invading the front surface of the eye, can occur if contact lenses are abused. Ulcers will result in a very painful red eye that needs immediate medical attention. If left untreated, corneal ulcers may cause severe ocular inflammation and can result in permanent damage to the corneal tissue.
Injuries to the ocular surface can also cause the eye to become red. Scratches to the very front surface of the eye, called corneal abrasions, can result in pain, blurred vision, and redness. Luckily, the front surface of the cornea recovers very quickly, and abrasions rarely become complicated issues. In more severe cases of injury, such as a chemical burn, serious damage can occur to the ocular tissue if immediate action is not taken. These red eyes are considered emergencies and should be addressed right away.
The above list of causes of red eyes is not comprehensive and other ocular problems, such as uveitis or ocular herpes, can cause red eyes that need to be treated by an eye care professional. For some less serious causes or redness, eye-whitening drops may temporarily reduce the bloodshot appearance, but they are not a cure for the underlying problem. To truly treat a red eye, visit your optometrist at Wilmington Family Eye Care to determine the cause and ensure you are taking to proper steps to relieve your symptoms.