Understanding Red Eye: Prevention of Inflammation


An inflammation in one or both eyes is often caused by allergies or environmental irritants. Sometimes the cause of the allergy or irritant can be hard to find.


Do your eyes swell and itch when you pet a cat? Do they get red, watery, and itchy every spring or summer? If so, you may have an allergy to animals or pollen. Along with dust and mold, animals and pollen are the most common causes of allergies. With an allergy, both eyes are almost always inflamed.

Treating the Symptoms. The only cure for an allergy is to avoid the substance, or allergen, that’s causing the allergy. Eyedrops and cold compresses can help reduce swelling and relieve redness and itching. Symptoms usually take 4–6 weeks to clear up. If your allergy is severe, your doctor may prescribe oral medication, such as antihistamines or steroids, or refer you to a specialist.

Environmental Irritants

Air pollution, smoke, and fumes can irritate your eyes and cause the blood vessels to swell. So can contacts, especially extended-wear lenses, and some eyedrops. Your eyelids may get red and swollen and your eyes may water, but they usually don’t itch as much as they do with allergies. Depending on the cause, one or both eyes may be inflamed.

Treating the Inflammation. The best way to clear up the inflammation is to avoid the irritant. Artificial tears help flush out the eye and lubricate its surface. Your doctor may also prescribe medicated eyedrops to reduce swelling and relieve redness.