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  • Chris Thiagarajah MD

Pink Eye or Tumor?



Pink eye is one of the most common eye diagnoses that are found in patients. A "pink eye" in lay terms usually means an eye that is red. The most common causes are viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis, dry eye or episcleritis. However, rarely a pink eye can mean a tumor. The patient here had a pink eye for several months that was getting worse and was treated with artificial tear drops and drops "to get the red out". In fact on further examination, the patient had trouble moving her eye and numbness on the surface of the eye. Imaging revealed a tumor underneath.

What are the things that point away from something being pink eye or "simple red eyes" and something more serious? In Denver I am sent patients with red eyes who sometimes have something more serious. These are five simple signs that your reds may be something worse.

First, any decrease in vision should be checked by an ophthalmologist. It could represent a major problem in the eye such as iritis or intraocular infection where eye redness is a side effect.

Second, double vision is a warning sign that something is going wrong around the eye muscles which control movement. This points toward a problem in the eye socket which can be from thyroid eye disease, tumor or other causes

Third, any numbness on the face can reflect damage to the nerves that provide sensation. This would show a problem with deeper structures near the brain. In short, this would need imaging.

Fourth, constant tearing can show a blockage in the tear duct system. Normally a red eye can have more tears but should not have tears rolling over cheek. If that is happening the tear duct should be inspected. This is very true when only one eye is red.

Fifth, swelling of the eyelids can reflect preseptal or orbital cellulitis. Left untreated, this can lead to vision loss and even brain infection.

These are five simple examples of how red eyes can be something more. It is important to see your oculoplastic surgeon in Denver to get a good exam to make sure that something more serious is being ruled out. This is even more true when the red eye is not being resolved with straightforward drops.


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