Have you ever glanced at yourself in the mirror and been shocked to see bloodshot eyes looking back at you? If so, you’re not alone. Red eye – the general medical term used to refer to eyes that present with redness – is a very common problem that can affect one or both of our eyes. The majority of people will experience red eye to some degree during their lifetime. 

Why does red eye develop?

Red eye develops when blood vessels on the sclera – the surface of our eyes – begin swelling or dilating. Usually, this sort of expansion and inflammation occurs after our eyes are exposed to an irritant. Any number of things can lead to or contribute to red eye symptoms; just a few examples of red eye causing culprits include dry air, dust, hay fever or other allergic reactions. In more serious cases, red eye may be caused by viral or bacterial infections, including conjunctivitis (also known as “pink eye”). Injuries and facial trauma can also lead to cases of red eye.

What are the symptoms of red eye?

The symptoms that people experience when they develop red eye often vary from case to case, depending on the cause of their red eye. Completely or partially bloodshot eyes are, unsurprisingly, the #1 symptom in red eye cases. Sometimes people also experience mild to extreme pain or light sensitivity. In extreme or severe cases, patients may also develop pus or other discharge in their eye, as well as suffer from vision problems and even headaches or nausea.

When should I visit a doctor for red eye?

Because there are so many causes of a red eye, it’s important that you be examined by an ophthalmologist to determine if treatment is required to address the cause of your symptoms. The doctor can also tell you the likelihood of the condition being contagious.

You should also call your doctor whenever any redness in your eyes is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Soreness or pain in either of your eyes

  • Discharge developing in one or both of your eyes

  • Sudden changes in your vision, including vision loss or blurriness

  • Headaches or nausea

  • Light sensitivity

  • An inability to keep your eye open or closed

On the other hand, if you experience red eye after experiencing an injury or trauma, it’s best to visit an emergency room rather than wait for a regular doctor’s appointment to make sure the cause of the red eye isn’t serious. Also make sure that you go to an ER if you experience a headache, nausea or blurry vision, or if you begin seeing white rings or halos around lights.

While red eye can be a startling condition to see, the good news is that there are a variety of causes for it. That said, it’s exceptionally important that you visit your eye doctor if you do develop red eye, just to make sure that nothing serious is at the root of the condition. If you find yourself looking at a case of red eye in your mirror, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our offices and to set up an appointment. Our staff is prepared to meet with your in a timely fashion so that you can continue seeing clearly and normally long into the future.

*Image courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org