Learning When to Be Concerned About Red Eyes - Art of Optiks
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Learning When to Be Concerned About Red Eyes

Our eyes play a crucial role in how we experience the world. When our eyes become red and swollen or are accompanied by other symptoms, it can quickly lead to an uncomfortable reaction. Beyond simply suffering from dry or itchy sensations, red eyes can also be indicators of far more pressing eye infections and conditions. But how do you know when you should be concerned about red eyes?

Read on to learn more about red eyes and emergency warning signs.

What Is Red Eye?

The term “red eye” is generally used to describe irritated, red, and bloodshot eyes. Noticeable redness occurs when the tiny blood vessels under the eye’s surface become inflamed due to some kind of irritation. 

Red eyes go hand in hand with other symptoms, such as:

  • Itching
  • Eye pain
  • Eye discharge
  • Swollen eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in vision

The severity of these symptoms will be based on the underlying factors and causes.

Common Red Eye Causes

Sometimes simply wearing contacts for too long or cleaning a dusty room can cause red eyes. Other times, it can be a direct result of injury or exposure to chemicals. While taking proper eye trauma precautions can help lessen the chances of serious eye injury, it’s still important to discern whether or not your red eyes are due to natural causes or something that requires urgent care. Explore some of the common causes of red eye below:


Millions of Americans suffer from seasonal allergies every year. Allergens like pet dander, dust, or foods can also trigger eye irritation, among other symptoms. This reaction is due to the histamine released by the body’s immune response, which can cause itchy, watery, and red eyes.

Dry Eyes

Did you know that most people blink around 15 to 20 times a minute which corresponds to an astounding 14,400-19,200 times a day? We instinctively blink to help lubricate our eyes with tears to keep them healthy and comfortable. When the eye doesn’t produce enough tears to stay hydrated, it can become overly dry. 

Dry eye symptoms can range from burning, stinging, possible pain, and even mucus discharge. Women going through menopause and those taking certain medications are more susceptible to dry eyes.

Inflamed Eyelid (Blepharitis)

Blepharitis is a very common condition that causes the eyelid to swell with inflammation, making it look red. In addition to a swollen eyelid, other corresponding symptoms include burning, itching, light sensitivity, and excessive tears. Proper eyelid hygiene can generally treat this issue, but it can lead to styes and other irritations if it progresses.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

One of the most common eye infections in children is conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye. Conjunctivitis is an infection and swelling of the transparent, thin membrane covering the white part of the eye and creating a pink or red eye. It may also cause a sticky discharge that sticks eyelashes together.

There are viral and bacterial forms of pink eye that can be particularly contagious and easily transmittable. Viral pink eye is the more common of the two. Similar to a common cold, antibiotics are not indicated. Treatment may include anti-viral medication, irrigation or other interventions. Bacterial conjunctivitis requires antibiotics in order to treat it effectively.

Eye Injury

Trauma to the eye can cause a red, bloodshot appearance due to the blood vessels dilating to increase blood flow to the area for faster healing. Typical eye injuries include puncture wounds, chemical burns, and corneal abrasions (scratches to the eye’s surface). These wounds require urgent medical attention since they could lead to severe, long-term problems.


Compared to the other red eye causes, glaucoma comes on gradually with little to no initial symptoms. Glaucoma is a sight-threatening condition that needs urgent medical attention to help treat. Keep your eye out for any accompanying telltale symptoms, such as suddenly painful bright red eyes with nausea, vision loss, and seeing halos around lights.

Additional Causes

There are also other causes that can lead to red eye, including:

  • Whitening eye drops
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use

All of these substances can cause eye irritation over time which is why it’s best to avoid these to minimize red eye symptoms. While there are many common causes of red eyes – like allergies or dryness – if they persist for longer than a week or are directly related to an eye injury, it’s best to consult a specialist. 

When You Need to Be Concerned About Red Eyes

There are several different causes of red eyes that come with varying degrees of severity. Because of this, it may be hard to know when exactly to seek help. If you are experiencing any of the following warning signs, it’s best to seek urgent eye care services as soon as possible:

Sharp Pain

Although pink eye and other minor irritants may cause itchiness, severe pain could indicate sight-threatening conditions. Some examples of these include corneal ulcers, acute open-angle glaucoma, or keratitis. 

Extreme Light Sensitivity

While light sensitivity is a general symptom of cornea irritation, an extreme response to light, also known as photophobia, is usually an indicator of iritis. This eye inflammatory disorder can be very debilitating, so it’s essential to seek help right away.

Blurry Vision

While blurry vision usually means you may need some vision correction, it can also indicate serious ocular disease when it occurs with red eyes. To distinguish between the two, your eye doctor will run a thorough eye exam to see if you have any reduced vision and go from there.

Colored Halos

Halos seen around light sources are caused by a significant disruption within the cornea of the eye. When the cornea becomes thicker, it gets cloudy. The cloudiness scatters the light, creating colored halos. These symptoms, along with flashers and floaters, are tied to ocular diseases.

Take Precautions When You Can

Staying hydrated, not rubbing your eyes, and using eye drops when needed will help to effectively treat most causes of red eyes. When it comes to more severe eye conditions and infections, it’s best to take as many precautions as possible. 

For example, if you work with chemicals, machinery, or other (potential) eye irritants, it’s best to take eye trauma precautions, including wearing protective eyewear and exercising discretion. These additional safety measures can help safeguard your eyes against harmful irritants and abrasions.

Revive Your Red Eyes With Art of Optiks

While several different factors may cause itchy red eyes, there are thankfully plenty of solutions to help. Treatment depends on the cause of the eye irritation. If you have allergies or regularly rub your eyes, you may only need some eye drops to ease irritation. However, if symptoms persist or you are concerned about your red eyes, it’s best to schedule an office visit with the care team at Art of Optiks to get the help you need.
Our skilled doctors and technicians can help address your red eyes and offer thoughtful solutions to treat your symptoms with ease. Contact us today to start getting relief from your red eyes.

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