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Red Eye or Conjunctivitis

If your eyes are red you may have ‘conjunctivitis’ - inflammation of the thin membrane covering the front of the eye and the lining of the eyelids.

The main symptoms of conjunctivitis are red watery eyes, inflamed inner eyelids, blurred vision, an uncomfortable, scratchy feeling and, sometimes, a sticky or watery substance that can make your eyelashes stick together.  This might make it difficult to open the eyes when you wake up, and your vision may distort slightly when you blink.

There are three types of conjunctivitis you may contract, as part of an illness such as colds, measles or influenza or for no apparent reason.

Infectious conjunctivitis

Infectious conjunctivitis may be caused by bacteria or by a virus.  It can occur in one eye, but often spreads to both as it may be very contagious.  If you wear contact lenses you must seek advice because the lenses may have become contaminated.  You should not wear contact lenses as they will irritate the condition, and should wash your hands frequently to prevent re-infection.  It is also a good idea for other members of the family to use separate towels whilst you have the infection.  If your new-born baby has conjunctivitis it requires urgent medical attention.

In most cases, your tears will cure a mild infection on their own, but if not then you will require treatment, which will depend on the cause of the disease.

Allergic and chemical conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by an allergy to dust or pollen, cosmetics, animals or fabrics.

Exposure to intense light from welding equipment can lead to a marked conjunctivitis known as arc eye or welder’s flash.

Chemical conjunctivitis may occur after exposure to irritants such as air pollution, noxious fumes and chlorine in swimming pools.

If the cause of the allergy is known, then it is best to avoid the irritant, and avoid wearing contact lenses, which will add to the irritation.

If the symptoms persist, prescription or over-the-counter eye drops may relieve discomfort.

As conjunctivitis can develop into a more serious condition that could harm your vision you should make an appointment to see your optometrist promptly for diagnosis and treatment.