Red eye: what you should know

February 9, 2010 by  
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Red, puffy eyes are not only due to crying or a sleepless night. Red eye may be due to a lot of causes, including irritation, inflammation and infections. What are the symptoms of red eye or conjunctivitis? Aside from the abnormally red color of the eye and undersurface of the lids, red eye also manifests in (source: Medscape)

  • Itchiness
  • Profuse eye discharge
  • Pain
  • Visual changes
  • Sensitivity to light

What causes red eye?

The most likely culprit for red eye is viral and bacterial infections. Other causes are:

  • Presence of foreign body in the eye
  • Corneal abrasion
  • Subconjunctival hemorrhage
  • Keratitis
  • Irritation due to chemicals
  • Allergies

According to a review by researchers from the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus:

“Red eye is the cardinal sign of ocular inflammation. The condition is usually benign and can be managed by primary care physicians. Conjunctivitis is the most common cause of red eye.”

How is red eye diagnosed?

The Medscape feature recommends that doctors should check the following:

  • Thorough eye examination that would include the eyelids, corneal, pupil’s reaction to light, visual acuity, and the lacrimal sac (tear gland).
  • Patient medical history that would include allergies, use of contract lenses, and other illnesses that may or may not be seemingly related to the eye problem.

There are no specific tests that can be performed to distinguish between bacterial and viral infections of the eye but the symptoms may slightly differ.

Viral conjunctivitis usually does not present in visual problems or sensitivity to light. Pain is usually mild or absent. Lymphoid follicles under the surface of the eyelid are usually present. Eye discharge is watery.

Bacterial conjunctivitis, on the other hand manifests in pain and edema of the eyelid. Eye discharge is sticky, making the eyelids glues together upon awakening.

The authors continued:

“Red eye is one of the most common ophthalmologic conditions in the primary care setting. Inflammation of almost any part of the eye, including the lacrimal glands and eyelids, or faulty tear film can lead to red eye. Primary care physicians often effectively manage red eye, although knowing when to refer patients to an ophthalmologist is crucial.”

How is red eye treated?

Although uncomfortable and irritating, red eye is rarely serious and usually goes away by itself. In most cases, eye drops containing broad-spectrum antibiotics (ophthalmic antibiotics) are prescribed. Anti-histamines, anti-inflammatory agents and topical steroids may also be

In addition, patients should be advised to take precautionary measures as red eye due to infection is highly contagious.

The authors concluded:

“To prevent the spread of viral conjunctivitis, patients should be counseled to practice strict hand washing and avoid sharing personal items; food handlers and health care workers should not work until eye discharge ceases; and physicians should clean instruments after every use.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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3 Responses to “Red eye: what you should know”
  1. Eddie says:

    Thanks for the post. Very interesting stuff. Is this the same thing that people commonly refer to as ‘pink eye’? Pretty nasty stuff…I remember one of my old drinking buddies had that. I actually got sober when I was 17…I got help from a place called New Life House. Check out their site if you are looking for help. New Life House – A Structured Sober Living in Los Angeles

  2. Liza Angelli says:

    After I read this article I remembered about a friend of mine that had some alcohol problems and had to stay in one of the rehab centers from our city for about one week. Before he left his left eye started to get red, his relatives said it was because of the alcohol till he was examined by a doctor at the clinic. He had a severe viral conjunctivitis and had to put some eye drops for a month. In the end everything was fine, now we gather and laugh about that situation.

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