Everything You Need to Know about Red Eyes

At one time or another, you’ve probably looked into the mirror only to discover your eyes were bright red. Your bloodshot eyes might have startled or even terrified you. After all, your eyes aren’t supposed to be that colour, are they?


What Is Red Eye?

“Red eye” is a broad term that refers to the appearance of the eye, not an actual medical condition. They often occur when blood vessels in your eyes become irritated and swollen.


Red eyes are sometimes mild, with only a few enlarged blood vessels. Other times, red eyes are severe, bright, and completely cover the eye. You might also experience the following symptoms along with red eyes:

  • Itching or burning sensations
  • Light sensitivity
  • Thick or watery discharge
  • Itchy or swollen eyelids
  • Crusting of the eyelid
  • Loss of eyelashes
  • Blurry vision

Common Causes
Most people will suffer from red eyes at one point or another. Here are a few common causes of red eyes:


Allergies
The most common cause of red eyes is irritants in the environment around you. Your immune system releases histamine when it reacts to a foreign substance, such as pollen or dust. Histamine inflames your blood vessels in an attempt to fight the irritant.


Common allergens include:

  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Mould

Frequent Contact Usage
Excessive or improper contact use is another very common cause of red eyes. If you don’t clean or change your contacts according to your optometrist’s specifications, microbes and other deposits can build up on the surface of your eye. This buildup can lead to fungal eye infections.


Lack of Sleep
Your eyes suffer more than any other part of your body when you don’t get enough sleep. In addition to forming dark circles and puffing up, your eyes will also redden after a few sleepless nights.


Dry Eyes
If your tear glands produce insufficient amounts of tears, your eyes won’t be able to lubricate and nourish themselves. As a result, your eyes will become irritated and inflamed.


Computer Vision Syndrome
If you work in an office or play video games late at night, your eyes probably feel tired or irritated after several hours. You tend to blink less when you look at a computer screen. The less you blink, the less hydrated the surface of your eye is. The less hydrated it is, the more likely you are to develop redness and sensitivity.


Prevention Methods
If you suffer from red eyes, you might wonder how to care for your eyes and prevent irritation in the future. Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid materials that you know irritate your eyes. If you have to be around animals or in dusty areas, be sure to bring eyedrops and allergy medications.
  • Take care of your contacts. Take them out and cleanse them in contact solution every night. Always replace them on schedule.
  • Don’t rub your eyes. Itching and rubbing only irritates your eyes and worsens the redness.
  • Wash your hands to prevent germs and allergens from entering your eyes.
  • Look away from the computer at least once every 20 minutes. Try to follow the 20-20-20 rule. Look every away 20 minutes, focusing on an object that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Don’t share cosmetics or linens. Different people’s bodies contain different levels of bacteria. When you use your friend or family member’s towel, his or her bacteria can get into your eyes and cause infections.

Less Common, More Severe Causes
The conditions above are common and often not severe. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only causes of red eyes. The following conditions can also cause red eyes. Although they are rarer, they are more severe and require the attention of a doctor.


Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis is also known as “pink eye” and occurs when your eye’s transparent covering becomes infected. It causes the eye to swell and redden, and sometimes causes the eye to secrete fluid. Conjunctivitis is contagious and can worsen over time.


Eye Injuries
Bumps, bruises, and scratches can all lead to red or bloodshot eyes. Any time you injure your eye, it responds by dilating the blood vessels to rush more blood to the site of the injury. The increased blood flow aids in the healing process.


Corneal Ulcers
Corneal ulcers often stem from untreated eye infections, such as conjunctivitis. In addition to red eye, corneal ulcers cause pain, reduced vision, and eye discharge. They are sight-threatening conditions that require immediate medical attention.


Uveitis
Uveitis occurs when the eye’s middle layer suffers trauma or infection. It most often leads to light sensitivity, eye floaters, blurry vision, and pain. If untreated, uveitis can cause cataracts, retinal detachment, or vision loss.


Ocular Herpes
If you suffer from red eyes on a recurring basis, you might have eye herpes. The type 1 herpes simplex virus is the same virus that causes cold sores—it also causes eye redness, swelling, pain, and discharge. If untreated, eye herpes can permanently damage your cornea.


When to Contact Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if your red eye symptoms persist over several days, or recur on a regular basis. You should also seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • A fever above 39℃ (about 101℉)
  • Sudden changes in vision
  • Facial swelling
  • Blunt trauma to the eye
  • Severe pain

Although red eyes don’t generally indicate a serious issue, always remember that your eyes are sensitive organs. When in doubt, contact an optometrist.

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