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Red eyes, should I leave it or treat it?

We have all experienced red eyes at some time in our lives. Causes can be many. It sneaks up overnight and catches you unaware. It can happen during hay fever season, after being exposed to cigarette smoke, a late night out or after swimming in a chlorinated pool. You may have pulled all-nighters, camped at your computer for days with the resulting eye fatigue and redness. Other causes may be physical injury to the eye, over wearing of contact lenses and common eye infections such as pink eye (conjunctivitis).

The symptoms become visible when tiny blood vessels on the whites of the eyes expand to make the whites of one or both eyes pink or reddish. Visible signs can vary widely in appearance. Pink or red lines may appear on the whites or even the whole eye. Eyes become red when the tiny blood vessels on the surface expand and turn the whites of one or both eyes pink or reddish. The symptoms can vary widely in appearance. Several pink or red lines on the white of the eye or the whole eye may appear diffusely pink or red. Over and above the cosmetic aspect (and the teasing at the office) they can also feel uncomfortable, itchy or watery.

There are many causes of red eyes. The best thing to do is to identify the cause and avoid it. It is sometimes easier said than done, especially when you are chasing that deadline or work in a dusty environment or have sub-arctic airconditioning in your office. Digital devices are a well-documented cause of eye strain. For these ‘known’ causes your eye care practitioner can give you advice on prevention if the causing circumstances are unavoidable.

Red eyes are not always sight-threatening but, you may need to consult an expert to distinguish between an infection and a benign eye irritation. If you’ve been dealing with red eyes for more than a few days and you are not sure, you should see your eye care practitioner. Redness of the eye can signal a more serious eye condition and may require medical diagnosis and treatment. You should see an optometrist or ophthalmologist if you have bloodshot eyes combined with the following:

1. Your eyes are producing a discharge, or your eyelids are stuck together in the mornings due to mucus
2. You are experiencing pain in or around your eyes or unusual tenderness
3. You have an abnormal sensitivity to light
4. You have changes in your vision, suffer from severe headaches and are feeling sick
5. The discomfort lasts more than a week
6. There is an outbreak of pink eye at your child’s school
7. You have recently injured an eye, especially if you suspect something has pierced it

Red-eye is usually self-limiting, however, it is red for a reason. It is best not to overlook a red eye, your eye and body could be trying to tell you something. It is always a good idea to have your eye care practitioner determine the cause, even if it is harmless.