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Eye Health Center

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What Your Eyes Say About Your Health

By Jennifer D'Angelo Friedman
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD

Do you ever look in the mirror and see that your eyes are red? Or droopy? Or extra crusty?

Sometimes a cold compress and a trip to the drug store are all you need. Other times, it's a good idea to see your doctor.

How can you tell the difference? A sneak peek at some common conditions will help you know if it’s something minor or worth a second look.


“I think the most common eye problem people experience is a red eye,” says Rebecca J. Taylor, MD, an ophthalmologist in Nashville, TN. “A red eye with a blotch of blood on the white part of the eye may look really scary, but it’s usually just a bruise under the surface of the eye. We call it a subconjunctival hemorrhage." It should clear up in a few weeks, she says.

If both eyes are red, itchy, and watery, that could just be allergies, Taylor says. Over-the-counter artificial tear drops will help with moisture, and antihistamine eye drops should stop the itch. If you’ve got these symptoms, most commonly they're caused by environmental (seasonal) allergies, but they could mean you’re allergic to a product you used. Call your doctor if you’re not better in 10 days.


Your doctor may call this acute conjunctivitis. It's itchy and red, and oozes white or yellow discharge. “Typically it is viral and lasts a week to 10 days. It can start in one eye and go to the other eye. A runny nose and cold symptoms are also very common,” Taylor says.

If you think you’ve got it, call your doctor to be sure. Just in case, it can be very contagious, so wash your hands frequently and don’t share towels or washcloths. Some conditions, like dry eye disease or an eye infection, look a lot like conjunctivitis. Your doctor will know the difference and how to treat it.

Dry Eye

Blame this common problem on your environment, hormonal changes, or your daily routine. “People who stare at the computer, cell phones, books, or the TV for long periods of time may be very uncomfortable toward the end of day, because they are not blinking enough,” Taylor says.

Moisten your eyes with some artificial tears from your local drugstore. Use them a couple of times a day. See your doctor if that doesn’t work. Some conditions, like certain forms of arthritis, are linked to dry eyes. Other medicines you take could cause it, too.

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