Everyone has probably noticed some redness in the white of their eyes at one point or another. This condition is appropriately called red eye, and is the main sign of eye inflammation. The majority of the time, painless red eye is caused by conjunctivitis, which is inflammation of the thin layer of tissue covering the eyeball and inner surface of the eyelids. For this article, we’ll focus on the causes and treatments of conjunctivitis related red eye. Any time you have red eye, it’s recommended you go see your family doctor. However, if there’s pain associated with redness, it could be a sign of a more serious condition, and a visit to your family doctor or optometrist is necessary.
Contact Lens Intolerance
One of the most common causes of red eye is contact lens intolerance. If you wear your contact lenses for too long, don’t replace them frequently or don’t care for them properly, then there’s a good chance you’ll develop contact lens intolerance—which essentially means you can’t wear contacts without them causing discomfort. Where there’s contact lens intolerance, there’s usually a case of red eye.
Contact lens related red eye can be controlled by keeping your lenses clean and disinfected. It’s also important to follow the wearing instructions—which usually means don’t wear them overnight! Finally, your eye doctor may recommend a daily disposable lens or perhaps a different type of material, such as rigid gas permeable lenses.
Allergies and Irritants
Your reaction to common respiratory allergens like pollen, pet dander, dust mites and mould can often lead to red eyes. Keeping your allergies in check with antihistamines or immunotherapy can go a long way to helping reduce the likelihood of an itchy allergic reaction. Optometrists can also prescribe an allergy eye drop to be used daily throughout the worst allergy months. Keep your allergies in check and your itchy, red eyes will follow.
Another common cause of red eye is irritants such as smoke, pollution, chlorine in swimming pools and ingredients in cosmetic products. All of these things can come in contact with our eyes and cause red eye. The best way to prevent red eye from these irritants is avoidance. You may have little control over pollution, but you can definitely try to avoid hanging out with people while they’re smoking cigarettes. When swimming in a pool, don’t open your eyes under water, or better yet, wear goggles. Be careful when applying makeup around your eyes and replace your products often because old makeup can cause bacterial infections.
Bacterial and Viral Infections
When an eye infection is viral and causes redness, it’s called pink eye. Viral eye infections are very contagious and extremely common among school-aged children. With this form of conjunctivitis, the blood vessels in the white part of the eye swell and give it a pink appearance. Viral conjunctivitis is most often accompanied by the common cold. Therefore, the most common method of getting a viral eye infection is through exposure to someone who has a cold and coughs or sneezes. Like a common cold, the virus just has to run its course, which may take two to three weeks in some cases. Symptoms can usually be kept in check using artificial tear eye drops and cold compresses. In the worst cases, topical steroid drops can be used to minimize inflammation and reduce discomfort.
Bacterial eye infections are caused by bacteria from your own skin or respiratory system. Infection can occur through various means, such as from insects, physical contact with other people, touching your eyes with unclean hands or using old makeup and facial lotions. Unlike viral eye infections, red eye caused by a bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments, with most people showing improvement within three or four days.
Whether your red eye is caused by contact lens intolerance or a viral infection, it’s important to stay on top of it so that it doesn’t become more serious. For this reason, it’s recommended that people visit their family doctor or an optometrist whenever they notice a persistent case of red eye.
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