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Overview of Red Eye: Definition, symptoms, causes and treatment

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

The most common causes of Red Eye (RE) are not serious and require little intervention to settle. However, sometimes the cause of the RE could be an insidious disease that, if left untreated, can compromise vision and result in complications. Read ahead to know more about this topic.

Red-eye

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What is a Red Eye?

A Red Eye refers to any condition in which the eyes appear bloodshot, bruised, or irritated.

The eye has multiple small tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva. These may get irritated, inflamed, and prominent, resulting in the red appearance of the normally white eye.

What are the symptoms of Red Eye?

A Red Eye may not have any associated symptoms. Often, you may not notice that your eye is red until someone else tells you, or you happen to look in a mirror. Other times, it may be associated with the following symptoms.

  1. Itching

  2. Increased tear secretion/watering of the eye

  3. A sensation of dust/foreign body/particles in the eye

  4. Blurring of vision

  5. Swelling of the eye

  6. Discharge from the eye

What are the causes of Red Eye?

Here are some of the commonly encountered causes of a Red Eye.

1. Eye Strain 

Those long hours spent watching TV shows late at night, staring at your laptop, or any delay in getting your refractive error checked can all cause significant strain on your eyes. This results in red, irritated eyes with blurring of vision. 

2. Conjunctivitis 

Conjunctivitis is one of the most common causes of Red Eye. This refers to infection and inflammation of the conjunctiva layer of the eye. It can affect one or both eyes. It can spread from one person to another by touching the infected eye (not through air!). Associated symptoms include a burning sensation, increased watering, itchiness, and pain. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, allergies, etc. 

3. Allergies

People who are susceptible to environmental allergens like dust, pollen, etc., can get Red Eyes when they’re having an allergic reaction. 

4. Subconjunctival Haemorrhage 

While the name sounds serious, this is a relatively painless and harmless condition that happens when exerting a lot of pressure from within & strain, such as while: 

  • vomiting 

  • violently coughing 

  • sneezing 

  • heavy weight lifting 

  • straining to pass bowel movements

  • bearing down during childbirth 

Here, there is an increase in the pressure in the blood vessels which supply the conjunctiva. This can cause them to burst and bleed, which appears as a Red Eye or a splotch of bleeding over the white of the eye. Other causes include direct injury or the use of blood thinners for a prolonged period of time. This condition is painless and does not affect vision. It usually settles by itself.

4. Injury to the eye

Any injury to the eye can cause the blood vessels to rupture and result in a Red Eye. It is always important to seek medical intervention in case of an injury to the eye so as to assess the extent of damage, as well as prevent the progression of any serious damage. 

5. Foreign body in the eye

Although the eye is protected by the lids and lashes, sometimes, minute particles of dust, pollen, sand, metal, etc., can still make their way in. These can cause severe irritation, redness, increased tear production, and itching. If you suspect a foreign body in your eye, seek medical help immediately to have it removed.

6. Dry eyes

The eyes are constantly lubricated by tears. When this is inadequate, the eyes can become dry, irritated, red, and itchy. There are many causes for this including ageing, prolonged contact lens usage, systemic diseases which cause decreased tear production, and as a side effect of some medications. The use of artificial tear products can help manage these symptoms. 

7. Glaucoma 

Some types of glaucoma are associated with increased pressure inside the eyeball. Common symptoms include a sudden or gradual loss of vision, bright coloured rings in vision (called halos), headache, eye redness, eye pain, etc. It is therefore important to get your eyes checked routinely and especially if you experience any change in vision immediately so as to diagnose glaucoma early and prevent its progress. 

8. Stye

A stye occurs due to the swelling of the glands surrounding the eye when their outlet is blocked. It can present with a cystic swelling in the eye, pain, redness of the eye, and heaviness. 

9. Issues with the eyelid

The eyelid can become infected in a condition called Blepharitis which can result in a Red Eye, along with swelling of the eyelids, scaling & crusting. Another set of conditions involve the eyelid being abnormally positioned. If it is turned outwards, it is called Ectropion, and if it turns inwards on itself, it is called Entropion. These conditions can expose the eyeball to injury and foreign bodies. 

10. Infection and inflammation of different parts of the eye

These are more serious conditions that require medical intervention. Some of these conditions include the following. 

  • Keratitis 

  • Iritis & Uveitis

  • Scleritis

These conditions require treatment with steroids & anti-inflammatory agents, and sometimes even surgical intervention. 

When do you need to see a doctor for a Red Eye?

When it comes to the eye, it is always better to see your ophthalmologist when experiencing any abnormality. An early diagnosis is always beneficial as it can help avoid complications that can potentially result in the permanent loss of vision. In general, see a doctor if you have the following.

  • Eye pain

  • Sudden change in vision

  • Redness persisting for more than 5 days

  • Worsening of redness

  • Discharge from the eyes, crusting, pus secretion

  • New onset of sensitivity to light

  • Fever, headache, heaviness of the head

What is the treatment for Red Eye?

Simple redness of the eye often settles by itself. Here are some things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms.

  • Rest and decrease screen usage

  • Using cool compression over the eye

  • Gently washing the eyes with clean water

  • Following hand hygiene

  • Avoiding rubbing of the eyes

  • Removing eye makeup properly

  • Wearing protective eyewear when going out if you’re susceptible to allergens

  • Make sure to store your contact lenses in a clean solution and avoid wearing them for long hours.

If you visit a doctor, they may prescribe antibiotic drops in case of an infection or lubricating eye drops to reduce irritation. Antiinflammatory drops are also used in case of allergies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Red Eye.

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I have had redness and irritation in my eye since one day. What should I do?

For any sudden redness in the eyes, it is best to consult an ophthalmologist. They can tell you about the cause and give advice on how to prevent the same thing from happening in the future.

My job involves spending several hours each day on the laptop. I usually get a Red Eye at the end of each day. How can I prevent it?

For people using screens for long hours, the use of contact lenses should be preferably avoided. Take frequent breaks (once in every 30 minutes) where you look away from the screen for about two minutes. Avoid phone use at this time. Lubricating eye drops can be beneficial in case dryness persists.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions. Red Eye is written as RE in this article.

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