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Red Eyes Vs. Dry Eyes: What is the Difference?

Dry, red eyes can often be dismissed as merely a temporary symptom of irritants such as allergies, fatigue or substance abuse. Many people think that their red eyes will get better when the irritant or irritants go away, or if they could just get a bit more sleep at night. The majority of times, they are right. However, Dr. Dan Bristol of Bristol Family Eyecare in Austin, Texas cautions, “Sometimes your red, dry, itchy eyes may indicate a more serious eye condition, called dry eye syndrome. With dry eye syndrome, your eyes feel chronically dry and uncomfortable as a result of deficiencies in the eye or the tears it produces. This condition may be triggered by hormonal changes, illness or side effects from some medications. Knowing the difference between normal, run-of-the-mill red eye and dry eye syndrome may help you recognize dry eye syndrome earlier and spare you considerable pain and discomfort.”

Red Eyes - Allergies or Inflamation

Dr. Bristol explains, “Red eyes are very rarely serious. Proper hygiene and time are usually all that is needed for red eyes to get better. Red eyes occur when the blood vessels on the surface of the eye become irritated from dust, allergens or other minor irritants and become inflamed and dilated. This causes the blood vessels in the eye to become more visible, and your eyes to appear to be 'red' or 'bloodshot.'”

Allergens such as pet dander, pollen or dust in a person's immediate environment are the most common causes of red eyes. Red eyes that are a result of allergies or substance abuse tend to return to normal soon after the allergen is removed or the substance has left the body. By contrast, eye infections such as conjunctivitis may take up to a few weeks for your red eyes to get better.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Unlike run-of-the-mill red eyes, which usually require no special attention or treatment, dry eye syndrome often requires professional assistance to ease symptoms and prevent pain and discomfort. A few options exist when considering what is causing a person to suffer from dry eye syndrome. One possibility is that the eye consistently fails to produce a sufficient amount of tears to keep the eye hydrated. It is also possible that even though the eye is producing enough tears, these tears lack one or more essential ingredients that allow them to properly keep the eye hydrated. Depending on which parts are missing, tears may be unable to spread out over the eye, or may be too quick to evaporate, leading to the eye being consistently under-hydrated.

Artificial tears, specialty eye drops meant to imitate natural tears produced by the eye, are the leading recommended treatment for dry eye syndrome. Artificial tears come in a number of formulations, depending on the underlying cause of dry eye syndrome. They may help reduce the shortage of natural tears manufactured by your eyes, or may help by adding elements that are missing from the tears that are produced naturally.

Knowing which type of artificial tears you need may be difficult, but your optometrist will help you understand which form of dry eye syndrome you suffer from, and which artificial tears will work best for you.

For questions and more information, consult Dr. Dan Bristol today.


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