I see patients with red eyes all the time. As an eye doctor its one of the most common reasons why people come to see me for non-routine care. So I’ve developed tons of experience in identifying and treating red eyes, and I’ve learned that when a patient seeks my help for their red and irritated eyes, the first question to ask is “do you wear contact lenses?”
Contact lenses are a wonderful form of vision correction and in general are very safe. However, under the right conditions, contact lens wear can give you an increased chance of getting red and irritated eyes. Being an optometrist is sort of like being a detective in that not only do I diagnose and treat the irritation and redness, but also find the cause so we can prevent you from suffering from it again.
Often times the cause of the problem is simply caused by over wearing the lenses, either by sleeping in them or not changing them often enough. The more a contact lens is worn, the dirtier it gets and it gets less permeable to oxygen. Put another way, the dirt and grime on the lens doesn’t allow it to breathe.
The eyes react with inflammation. It starts as some redness which you may not even notice, but if the poor conditions continue white blood cells enter (infiltrate) the cornea and white spots will actually be visible with a microscope. By time this happens, most patients are symptomatic of redness, irritation and possible mild light sensitivity or blurred vision. The treatment is to leave your contacts off for a few days and I prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops to help you recover faster.
When your eye is in this compromised state it can lead to a bacterial infection of the cornea. This is called a corneal ulcer or microbial keratitis (a bacterial infection that is also inflaming the cornea). Essentially, bacteria is starting to eat a hole into your cornea and you will experience more eye pain and light sensitivity. This is a much more serious condition that should be treated by your optometrist urgently.
There are other ways the eyes can get red and irritated while wearing your contact lenses. Some lens wearers have a reaction to the contact lens material itself, or more commonly the combination of lens material (brand) and the solution used to clean and disinfect the lenses.
No matter how bad the redness or irritation is, the first thing you should do is remove your contact lenses. If your symptoms are mild, most likely the condition will improve without further treatment. If you already have moderate to severe discomfort or pain, you should see your eye doctor for prompt medical treatment. Remember, no matter how bad your symptoms are you should consult your optometrist so we can help prevent further episodes.