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Home » What's New » What’s The Difference Between Red Eyes and Dry Eyes?

What’s The Difference Between Red Eyes and Dry Eyes?

Many people often simply brush off their red, dry, itchy eyes, telling themselves that the issue is temporary and will resolve itself naturally with more sleep or at the end of allergy season. However, many people don't realize that there is a difference between minor irritation or infection that causes red eyes, which rarely require treatment and will resolve themselves naturally over the course of time, and dry eyes that do require treatment and will not resolve themselves over the course of time without treatment. Knowing the difference is very important for avoiding extended pain and discomfort.

Dr. Jacob Letourneau of Drs. Dobbins and Letourneau in Lawrence, Kansas explains, “'Red Eyes' is not a term that refers to any single condition per se, but rather describes the eyes' appearance when irritated. You get 'red' or 'bloodshot' eyes when the conjunctiva, the blood vessels on the surface of the eye, become irritated. The blood vessels then become inflamed and dilated, turning the whites of your eyes a red or pink hue. The most common cause of red eyes is allergies. These can be caused by irritants in the air such as pet dander, pollen, dust or smoke. Fatigue due to lack of proper sleep, and infections such as conjunctivitis (or 'pink eye') can also cause red eyes.”

Although red eyes accompanied by significant pain or a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit can be serious enough to consult a doctor, in general red eyes are not a sign of conditions that require immediate attention, and red eyes tend to go away on their own within a certain period of time. How long it takes to go away depends on the cause. Red eyes caused by allergies tend to return to normal within hours of the allergen being removed, whereas conjunctivitis and similar infections may take a few weeks to clear up.

“Dry eye syndrome may also result in having red eyes, but unlike most cases of red eyes, this condition will not resolve itself on it's own and going without treatment can cause a significant amount of pain and discomfort,” explains Dr. Letourneau, “Dry eye syndrome can result either from a shortage of tears produced by the eyes or from the tears that are produced not being constructed correctly. This can cause the tears to either be unable to spread out over the eye sufficiently or may cause the tears to evaporate too fast to hydrate the eye. Your eyes may feel dry or itchy all the time, and you may feel like dust or an eyelash is in your eye constantly, even though its not.”

Dry eyes can be caused by hormonal changes in the body or illness such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Medications can also cause dry eyes as a side effect.

Dry eye syndrome cannot be fully cured, but eye care professionals offer many options to relieve symptoms of dry eyes. Your doctor may prescribe artificial tears, a special type of eye drop that are made to imitate the natural tears from your eyes. Various types of artificial tears are formulated for different issues. While some will address a shortage of real tears, others will address parts of your tears' construction which are flawed, such as a shortage of mucus, oil or water in your tears. Your optometrist will guide you in choosing the type of artificial tear that will most fit your needs. Your optometrist may also advise you to avoid situations which trigger dry eye symptoms such as dry environments, dusty outdoor settings or smoke.

For questions and more information, consult your eye care professional in Lawrence, KS today.