Red eyes can have many causes, treatments


By Dr. Jean E. Keamy

Many people assume that red eyes mean they have an infection causing conjunctivitis. This may not be the case. There are many reasons why the eyes can be red.

keamy_hsAcute redness with a green discharge typically points to infectious conjunctivitis. Often it is accompanied by sinusitis or congestion. It is highly contagious and usually needs antibiotics if it is bacterial conjunctivitis. If it is viral conjunctivitis, the antibiotic will not help. Supportive care is indicated for viral conjunctivitis.

Redness associated with burning, blurry vision, foreign body sensation or eyelid heaviness with a clear or white discharge might not be an infection. It could be dry eyes. Dryness on the surface of the eyes can lead to chronic redness. Over the counter medications that gets the red out can actually make matters worse. They make the eyes even drier. Dry eyes can be treated with artificial tears, prescription eye drops and punctal plugs.

If itching is a major complaint along with red eyes, allergic conjunctivitis may be the culprit.

Seasonal and environmental factors stimulate hay fever. Sometimes symptoms are isolated to the eyes. Rubbing the eyes often makes them worse. Over the counter allergy drops may help. Often a prescription allergy drop is indicated for relief.

Red, painful eyes with light sensitivity may indicate a more serious problem. It may be a sign of inflammation in the eye. This could be inflammation of the cornea, sclera or inside the eye, called respectively, keratitis, scleritis or iritis.

Medical care should be sought immediately with an ophthalmologist.

These are just some of the major causes of red eyes. Signs that demand immediate attention include blurry vision, pain and photophobia. Since there are so many causes of red eyes, it best to seek the care an ophthalmologist.

Dr. Jean Keamy is a board certified ophthalmologist specializing in LASIK, PRK, refractive surgery, cataract surgery, and routine eye exams. She owns Keamy Eye & Laser Centre and can be reached at 508-836-8733. Learn more at or Archives of articles from previous issues can be read on