One of the more common emergency conditions patients visit their optometrist occurs when they are experiencing a red or pink eye. The belief that red eye is contagious and is always treated with antibiotics is a very common public misconception. This could not be further from the truth. There are numerous causative factors of red eye. While some cases are treated with antibiotics, others simply do not respond to any type of antibiotic therapy.

 The causes of red eye are extensive. Some of the more common reasons include bacterial infections, viral infections, iritis (inflammation inside the eye), dry eye, acute glaucoma, foreign body in the eye, blepharitis, trauma, episcleritis (inflammation of the upper layer of the whites of the eyes), scleritis (deep inflammation of the whites of the eye), post surgical irritation, etc. Treating a red eye is highly dependent on the cause. Therefore it goes without saying that the proper diagnosis of a red eye is crucial in order for timely and complete resolution.

 A red eye caused by a bacterial infection will produce a yellowish discharge and will resolve itself in time without treatment. It can be contagious. Antibiotic drops will speed up resolution of the red eye.

 Most viral infections will frequently produce a watery discharge and may be associated with an upper respiratory infection. This type of infection can be contagious as well and will resolve without the use of drops however anti-inflammatory drops can speed up the healing. A herpes virus infection of the eye is a much different condition which requires aggressive treatment with strong antiviral and/or anti-inflammatory drops.

 Iritis will also cause a patient to have a red eye. This condition must be treated aggressively with anti-inflammatories and dilating drops. It is not a contagious condition and antibiotic drops will not help to alleviate the red eye. If some cases, oral anti-inflammatories need to be prescribed.

 Dry eye can also cause redness to occur. Treatment usually involves using over the counter artificial tears available at your local pharmacy. The vast variety of different artificial tear brands can be overwhelming when making a treatment choice. A recommendation from your optometrist or ophthalmologist will help in directing you to the correct choice for your treatment. 

 I have seen countless patients who come in with a red, irritated eye that is not getting better with the drops they were given from their general practitioner. In some cases when I examine their eyes, I have found a foreign body stuck in their cornea. Obviously the foreign body needs to be removed.   

 I have not listed all the possible causes and treatments of red eye as time and space does not permit it.  The point I am trying to make is that proper diagnosis is very important when it comes to treating a red eye.  Treatment options depend greatly on the cause of the red eye.  Contact your local optometrist or ophthalmologist should you or anyone in your family suffer from a red eye.