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There are few things as disturbing as waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror and seeing a red eye. In most cases it is not as bad as it looks. The most common causes of red eye are conjunctival hemorrhage, allergic conjunctivits, viral conjunctivits, and bacterial conjunctivitis. The first three are usually self-limiting requiring little or no treatment. The latter, bacterial conjunctivitis, in some cases can be quite serious and cause sight-threatening problems.

Conjunctival hemorrhage represents a slight bleed into the outer layer of tissue in the eye called conjunctiva. The conjunctiva has many tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, and if one of them bleeds the blood will spread into the spongy tissue causing a deep red patch. At times the whole conjunctiva (the white part of the eye) can become blood- red from a hemorrhage, which can be quite alarming. Despite how bad it looks, the condition is benign and will spontaneously clear within one to two weeks.

Occasionally, one might get frequent, recurrent conjunctival hemorrhages. In these cases, blood-clotting factors should be checked. Certain chronic diseases, such as cancer, or certain medications can interfere with blood clotting, making one more susceptible to hemorrhages in the conjunctiva as well as other tissues in the body.

Allergic Conjunctivitis presents with a painless red eye accompanied by itching, and sometimes swelling of the eyelids. A watery discharge may also be present. People who present with allergic conjunctivitis usually will suffer from other symptoms related to allergy, such as a runny nose. Treatment includes cold compresses and artificial tears for mild symptoms, and antihistamine - decongestant drops for more pronounced itching. Allergic Conjunctivitis tends to occur with increased frequency during springtime, along with other allergies.

Viral Conjunctivitis presents with a usually painless red eye accompanied by light sensitivity, and a watery or mucous discharge. Other symptoms of a "cold" such as a stuffy nose, or cough may also be present. If the cornea is affected, discomfort in the way of light sensitivity or foreign body sensation may be present. This condition is usually self-limiting and will most often clear within one to two weeks. Treatment is directed toward relieving symptoms. Artificial tears, and antihistamine drops are sometimes helpful. Mild steroid drops with or without antibiotics, can be quite helpful in relieving symptoms, and shortening the course of the disease.

One particular virus, Herpes Virus, should be mentioned because it can cause painful and protracted eye disease. Unlike other viruses than can affect the eye, infection with Herpes Virus is usually painful and can lead to chronic and recurring disease. It is very important to see an Eye Doctor for a red irritated eye, particularly if pain is involved, so proper early diagnosis and treatment can be provided

Bacterial Conjunctivitis commonly presents with a painful red eye and a purulent (pus) discharge. The cause of the pain is usually inflammation of the cornea (keratitis) which can progress to corneal ulceration if left untreated. Early diagnosis and treatment by an Eye Doctor is very important to avoid corneal scarring and vision loss. Treatment involves specific antibiotics, which kill the offending bacteria.

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