What You Need to Know About the Red Eye

A red eye, known by the medical term conjunctivitis, is due to an inflammation of the covering of the eye and the inside of the eyelid.  It is most commonly caused by a viral or bacterial infection, allergies or dry eye, and typically can be treated at home without seeking medical care.  Immediate professional evaluation is needed to rule out more serious causes when there is moderate to severe pain, visual blurring or loss, sensitivity to light, pupil distortion and/or a history of eye injury.  Below you will find descriptions listed for the most common causes of a red eye.

  1. Viruses: Viruses are the most common infectious cause of red eyes.  Continual clear tearing without much itch is the typical set of symptoms, and the infection is generally passed through direct contact.  Symptoms generally resolve on its own within one week, and is often treated with home remedies such as cool compresses, artificial tears and ocular decongestants such as Visine. Work or school should be avoided until the symptoms have resolved, and patients should wash their hands frequently, especially after touching their eyes.  Discard any makeup and contacts that may be contaminated.
  2. Bacterial Infection: Bacterial infection, on the other hand, causes continual purulent discharge, often with a stinging sensation.  Frequently the eyelashes are “stuck” together in the morning.  Bacterial conjunctivitis is also passed by direct contact and typically resolves on its own, although antibiotic eye drops are frequently prescribed to speed healing.  As with viral conjunctivitis, work or school should be avoid until the infection has cleared, strict hygiene is mandatory and contaminated items should be discarded.
  3. Environmental Allergens: Environmental allergens frequently cause red eyes, which is usually accompanied by continual clear tearing and intense itching.  Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious and is treated by avoiding triggering substances such as pollen, dust or animals.  Antihistamines such as Zyrtec, artificial tears and ocular decongestants are effective in mild cases, and medical consultation and treatment is reasonable in more severe situations.
  4. Dry Eyes: Dry eyes are a common cause in the middle age and older population and is due to decreased tear production and/or poor tear quality.  Certain medications and autoimmune diseases can cause this condition, and the red eye is usually accompanied by mild itching and intermittent clear tearing.  Treatment usually centers around the use of artificial tears or lubricants, increased hydration, running a humidifier and possibly supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids.  Sometimes, prescription eye drops such as Restasis are prescribed for good effect.

Seek medical care immediately if your red eye symptoms are severe.  Otherwise, it is appropriate to wait for up to a week to see if the condition resolves on its own with the use of over-the-counter therapy.  North Idaho Direct Primary Care is committed to educating and providing cost-effective primary and urgent care services for our patients.  Call us today at 208-772-5204 and find out how we can better meet the medical needs of you, your family and your employees.

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