Opthalmologic Emergencies – The Red Eye

One of the common eye emergencies encountered by the emergency department is the red-eye. Although most of the times, this condition can be caused due to secondary conjunctivitis or simple irritation, the emergency department has to be watchful for the severe consequences of the red-eye condition and the threat to eyesight due to the same.

Hence, vital attention and care have to be given while treating the red eye.Various medical emergencies related to the red eye can be caused due to foreign particles entering into eyes, cuts, burns, scratches, chemical exposure, and blunt or penetrating injuries to the eyes. The eye is a sensitive organ and any of these emergency conditions if left untreated pose a potential threat to the vision. A painful red eye caused with or without an injury is an alarming medical emergency. Diagnosis of red eye can be done by physical examination and by obtaining history about the onset of the problem and associated symptoms.

Causes of Red Eye

There can be several causes for the red-eye emergency condition. The cause may or may not be easily understood. However, if the root cause of the problem is not known, a relevant history of the problem is obtained by an ophthalmologist.

Following are some of the possible causes for a red eye condition.

Chemical Injury:

Any work-related accident or exposure to chemical solvents such as cleaning solutions household products, or other such types of chemicals. Chemical injuries, if treated immediately can save vision and reinstate normal vision of the victim.

Eye Cuts:

Any severe eye injury to the eyelid or the eye can cause red-eye. This can immediately result in partial or complete vision loss which resolves over a period of time, with treatment.


Bacterial or viral infection to the eyes causes conjunctivitis and leads to red eye. Most of the times visual acuity is unaffected due to conjunctivitis, but symptoms may vary according to the etiology.

Symptoms Associated with Red Eye

Symptoms may vary from no pain to complete vision loss. Patients usually see the onset of simple or severe symptoms based on the reason for the red-eye. Following are some general symptoms associated with the red-eye.

Simple or moderate pain in the eye

Partial or complete loss of visionDiscoloration of the scleraSensitivity to lightItching of the eyes, in case red eye is due to conjunctivitisDouble vision, usually, if red eye is associated with injury.

Treatment for Red Eye

Most of the times, redness of the eyes can disappear within a few days. However, if red eye is associated with some severe symptoms such as vision loss, emergency physician’s consultation should be sought immediately. Before you could seek the diagnosis of the red eye, preliminary care can be helpful. In case of chemical exposure, flushing the eyes with cool water is useful. In case of blunt injuries, applying cold compresses can be a beneficial treatment of the red-eye.

Red-eye can be an ophthalmologist emergency. Red-eye associated with sudden vision loss, vision-threatening ocular trauma, and chemical exposure or injury should be brought to immediate attention of an emergency physician. After primary observation, emergency physician may recommend the patient to an ophthalmologist for the red eye treatment.

Margie Meyer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *