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Icky, Sticky Red Eyes

By Jennifer Hui, MD, FACS
Many conditions can cause red, irritated eyes

Many conditions can cause red, irritated eyes

Redness and stickiness of the eyes are common complaints. Some cases are caused by infectious conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” but there are also a variety of other causes.

In the midst of winter, pink eye is an ailment you or a loved one may encounter. It is often associated with an upper respiratory infection (common cold) and viral conjunctivitis is the usual culprit. Pink eye often occurs in clusters, such as a particular classroom or play group. Common symptoms include severe redness of the eye(s), itching, copious discharge, crusting of the lashes overnight and watering of the eyes. Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, and the offending bug may live on surfaces for up to two weeks, thus vigilant hygiene is key. If only one eye is initially infected, taking care to avoid rubbing or touching the unaffected eye may spare its involvement. Additionally, the affected person should avoid sharing towels, pillow cases and close contact with those around them.

If you live or work in proximity to someone with pink eye, it is best to avoid touching your own eyes, and to wipe down common areas (keyboards, steering wheels, door knobs, remote controls, phones, refrigerator handles) thoroughly and frequently with germicidal wipes. If caused by a virus, the best treatment for pink eye is maintaining strict hygiene and allowing for time to clear the infection. Antibiotic drops are reserved for cases of bacterial conjunctivitis. It is important to have an examination to determine the exact cause and the best treatment.

An eye exam can also help to distinguish other causes such as allergic conjunctivitis or irritation from over-wearing contact lenses. Both can cause watering of the eyes, irritation, discharge, itching and feelings of grittiness in the eyes. Allergic cases may be triggered in certain situations such as exposure to dust or grass.

Contact lens overwear can occur during any point. Some people develop the condition after only a few years of use, and others after decades. Most report increased intolerance to their lenses. Treatment coupled with a break from lenses often allows a user to continue their long- term use, but it is important to diagnose the ailment as soon as possible.

With any ocular condition, there may be an accompanying eyelid irritation, redness or swelling. Sometimes eyelid changes are the presenting sign or symptom. Timely diagnosis and intervention are imperative in helping to resolve symptoms and return you to optimal visual functioning.

Dr. Hui is the founder of The Eyelid Institute in Palm Desert. She is an Oculoplastic surgeon and has a special interest in helping patients with Eyelid, Lacrimal and Orbital conditions. An Oculoplastic surgeon is a physician with combined training in Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (Oculoplastics) and Ophthalmology who has unique abilities to perform a variety of delicate procedures around the eyes. Dr. Hui can be reached at (760) 610.2677. 

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