Having red eyes isn’t completely of the ordinary, especially when you know what the cause is. If, however, you haven’t been burning the midnight oil or haven’t gotten soap in your eyes, then there could be more to the redness. Although bloodshot eyes aren’t always a cause for concern, there are times when it’s best to visit your ophthalmologist.
Common eye irritation and redness typically differs from more serious issues based on three fundamental symptoms. Dr. Piergiorgio Neri, Associate Staff Physician in the Eye Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, recommends visiting your ophthalmologist if eye redness also brings:
- Light sensitivity
- Vision changes
Possible causes of eye redness
Here are a few reasons why you may experience redness in your eyes and what you should do about it:
- Allergies: If you have allergies, your eyes may also see the difference with changing seasons. Allergens like pollen or dust in the air may make your eyes itchy, watery or burn. If you are well-versed with your allergies and are unsure of the cause, visit an ophthalmologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
One simple remedy is to use over-the-counter eye drops that help lubricate your eyes. However, Dr. Neri warns that certain eye drops that claim to “reduce” eye redness, do so by shrinking the blood vessels which can be counterproductive. Your blood vessels need oxygen and shrinking them limits their oxygen supply, so when the effects wear off, they dilate even more than before. As a result, regular use can often lead to a vicious cycle.
- Broken blood vessels: Sometimes the blood vessels on your eye’s surface may break open due to change in blood pressure, blood thinners or eye surgeries. They appear as a small red smear on your eye or even diffuse redness. You may not even notice it unless someone tells you about it. They are often harmless, but it is best to consult your ophthalmologist if they take more than 5 to 10 days to heal. In these cases, it might be advised to get your blood pressure checked to rule out any issues that can be caused by hypertension.
- Infection: Infection from bacteria, allergens, fungi or viruses can make your eyes red too. Contact lens users are particularly susceptible to infections. Contact lenses not only make the eye dry, but can also erode the eye’s surface and lead to corneal infection. Visit a doctor immediately if you are a contact lens user suffering from red eyes or are experiencing pain, sensitivity or vision problems.
- Dry eyes: Too much screen time and lack of sleep can lead to dry eyes. It is also possible to have chronic dry eyes if your “tear drainage system” is not in order which may lead to loss of lubrication. While over-the-counter eye drops may help, if your problem persists, different techniques may be used such as introduction of topical immune suppression, or a punctal (tear duct) plug placement.
- Pink eye: Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, occurs when infection affects the mucous membrane of your eye and causes inflammation. This includes swelling, itching, discharge and a burning sensation. Pink eye is very contagious and you should visit a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms. It is very important that you take the necessary precautions to not spread it by sharing anything that comes in contact with your eyes (e.g. towels, linen, pillows etc.)
- Uveitis: Uveitis is inflammation affecting the internal vascular component of the eye called the uveal tract. It can be caused by infection or an immune system response. Along with red eyes, you also may experience pain and sensitivity to light. Uveitis is sight-threatening condition and, if left untreated, can also lead to the development of several complications, such as glaucoma, cataract or permanent vision loss.
Therefore, it is crucial to consult an ophthalmologist for diagnosis and referral to a uveitis specialist if necessary.
- Eye tumor: Eye tumors are rare and are difficult to detect yourself. An ophthalmologist should check any eye irritation, vision changes or pain that you cannot explain in order to rule out any possible cause including ocular tumors.
Bloodshot eyes or just a small red mark – whatever the condition, don’t hesitate to seek your ophthalmologist’s help if it persists for longer than a day, if it aches or causes vision problems. If you have sudden changes in your vision or severe pain, head to the nearest emergency department as soon as possible.