Five Common Causes of Red Eye

Red Eye is one of the most common conditions we see in our GoHealth Urgent Care centers.  In fact, tens of millions of people in the U.S. experience this symptom each year.

Here are five of the most common causes of this eye condition.

1) Corneal Abrasion

Corneal abrasions are usually caused by trauma to the surface of the eye. Animal paws, fingernails, branches, and leaves are common causes of this injury. Corneal abrasions cause eye redness, pain, increased tearing, and blurry vision. Abrasions are often treated with antibiotic drops to make sure they don’t get infected.

2) Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis affects up to 40% of the U.S. population, causing itchy, watery, red eyes. It often occurs with other allergic symptoms, such as sneezing, a runny nose, and an itchy throat. Allergic conjunctivitis is often treated with antihistamine eye drops and if accompanied by other symptoms, oral antihistamines.

3) Viral Conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis is the most common cause of infectious conjunctivitis, usually occurring in the setting of an upper respiratory infection. In addition to experiencing itchy, watery eyes, patients also typically experience nasal congestion, a sore throat, and a cough. Viral conjunctivitis resolves on its own without any specific treatment.

4) Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Unlike viral or allergic conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis usually only affects one eye, and it causes more severe symptoms than the other two forms of conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis causes significant eye redness, irritation or itching, and purulent discharge. It is highly contagious and typically requires antibiotic eye drops.

5) Corneal Ulcer

It's good to know the difference between a corneal ulcer vs abrasion. A corneal ulcer is an open sore of the cornea, and it’s most commonly seen in people who over-wear their contact lenses. Corneal ulcers are caused by bacteria that release a toxin that erodes the cornea, causing an ulcer to appear. If left untreated, corneal ulcers can result in significant complications, including permanent vision abnormalities or blindness. This serious eye condition, which often causes a red eye, increased tearing, light sensitivity, and eye pain, requires antibiotic eye drops and close follow-up with an eye doctor.

We're Here to Help

At GoHealth Urgent Care, we’re here 7 days a week to care for you and any eye redness you may be experiencing. Our sight is one of our most valuable senses, so it’s important to know when to seek medical attention if you experience vision changes or any symptoms explained above.


Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant