Red eye: Six common causes of red eyes and when to seek emergency help

A red eye is a common problem that can affect one or both eyes. A person’s symptoms may signify the underlying cause. A red eye can be chalked up to a number of causes. While the condition is not usually a cause for concern, certain cases may require medical attention. Here are the common causes and when to seek medical help.

According to the NHS, these symptoms may signify the following six common causes.

  • Bright red area in the white of your eye – burst blood vessel
  • Gritty or burning feeling, sticky eyes – conjunctivitis
  • Sore, blurry or watery eyes – dry eyes
  • Itchy, sore or red eyelids – blepharitis
  • Feels like there’s something in person’s eye – ingrowing eyelashes
  • Swollen, drooping or twitching eyelid, or a lump on a person’s eyelid – eyelid problems

It can also be caused by environmental factors too. As the NHS explained, a red and painful eye can sometimes be caused by a particle, such as a piece of grit, getting in their eye.

If there’s something in a person’s eye, a GP or a hospital doctor at an A&E department will try to remove it. They’ll first put anaesthetic eye drops into the affected eye to numb it and reduce further discomfort.

You may be given antibiotic eye drops


If the particle has scratched a person’s eye, it may feel a bit uncomfortable when the anaesthetic wears off, explained the health site.

“You may be given antibiotic eye drops or ointment to use for a few days to reduce the risk of infection while it heals,” added the health body.

In most cases, however, if a person’s eye does not hurt and their sight is not affected, it’s probably nothing serious.

It may get better on its own in a few days.

The NHS recommends trying not to touch or rub the affected eye and not wearing contact lenses as this may delay the healing process.

A person can also ask a pharmacist for additional advice on how to treat their red eye.

Certain cases may require more serious medical expertise, however.

As the NHS explained, a person should see their GP if:

  • Their eye is not any better after a few days
  • Their child is under two years old

“If your GP cannot find what’s causing your red eye, they may refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) for tests,” noted the health body.

A person should ask for an urgent GP GP appointment or call 111 if:

  • Their baby has red eyes and they’re less than 28 days old
  • Their eye is painful and red
  • They have a red eye and wear contact lenses – this may signify an eye infection

Certain warning signs may call for more urgent medical help.

These include:

  • Changes to a person’s sight, like wavy lines, flashing or loss of vision
  • If it hurts to look at light
  • If a person has a severe headache and feels sick
  • If a person’s eye or eyes are very dark red
  • If a person has injured or pierced your eye

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