Like the name suggests, red eye is a condition where your eyes appear red and feel irritated. This is due to an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the inside of your eyelid and the white part of your eyes. The condition is known medically as conjunctivitis.
Allergies and other environmental factors can trigger conjunctivitis but the most common cause is infection. This form is known as Infectious Conjunctivitis and can be caused by a virus or bacteria. Infectious conjunctivitis or red eye, is sometimes referred to as pink eye.
The symptoms vary depending on which type of infection you have: viral or bacterial. Common symptoms consist of red, inflamed eyes. There may also be burning, itching and swelling of the eyelids.
In viral infection, you may have a watery discharge. The discharge is more thick in bacterial conjunctivitis causing the eyelids to stick together in the morning. One or both eyes may become infected.
Whatever your symptoms, leave the diagnosis to your eye care professional. Lack of treatment or incorrect treatment may lead to serious eye damage.
The treatment for viral and bacterial conjunctivitis differs as well. Viral infections are usually left to your body's own immune system to clear up, however cold compresses can help relieve the burning and swelling. Bacterial infections usually require some form of antibiotic drops or ointment to kill the bacteria. Warm compresses can help keep your eyelids free of discharge and cold compresses can relieve burning and swelling. Your eye care professional will recommend the treatment that's best for you.
Eye infections are very contagious and easily spread. To prevent spreading such an infection, the following precautions should be taken:
- Avoid touching your eyes.
- Use a separate towel or tissue for each eye.
- Don't share towels, wash cloths, cosmetics or eye drops with anyone.
- Always wash your hands before and after applying drops or ointments.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses.
- Small children should be kept away from school or daycare until the infection has cleared up.