A membrane called the conjunctiva covers the white of the eye and the underside of the eyelids. If irritated or inflamed, the white of the eye may turn red. Other symptoms may occur as well, as each cause for conjunctival inflammation often appears slightly different. As such, knowing the causes for inflammation of the eye membrane, as well as the accompanying symptoms, may help determine the cause and help sufferers find proper treatment.
Allergic reactions in the eye commonly cause eye inflammation. Many people have seasonal allergies and reactions to pet dander, cigarette smoke or other allergens. In response, the eyes may become red, itch and tear or have a thick discharge, states The University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. Some people also experience swelling of the eyelids since the inflammation will often affect the membrane lining the inner eyelids as well. Oral allergy medications, such as over-the-counter antihistamines, may improve eye symptoms. However, some people require allergy eye drops to reduce eye inflammation. Many drugstores carry nonprescription allergy eye drops. If symptoms do not respond to nonprescription strength, an eye doctor may prescribe a stronger eye drop to relieve the symptoms.
An infection in the membrane called conjunctivitis, which is also referred to as pinkeye, may result in inflammation. This condition typically causes the white of the eye to appear quite red, but the infection may also cause itching, tearing, lid swelling and light sensitivity or a thick, mucus-like discharge. If the infection results from bacteria, an eye doctor may prescribe an antibiotic eye drop to treat the infection. Viral conjunctivitis, which often results from the common cold virus, does not have a treatment. The doctor may recommend simply letting the infection resolve on its own, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. With severe symptoms, the doctor may prescribe steroid eye drops or other drops to help reduce inflammation.
Foreign bodies in the eye, no matter how small, may cause a small scratch or abrasion on the sensitive front surface of the eye, called the cornea. An abrasion on the cornea will often result in eye redness and inflammation. Other symptoms may include vision changes, light sensitivity, pain, foreign body sensation or lid swelling, according to MedlinePlus. Mild abrasions do not usually require medical treatment. However, if you feel like the foreign body may still be in your eye, contact an eye doctor, who will examine the surface and may look to see if the matter lodged under the lid. If an abrasion causes severe pain, the doctor may place a contact lens in the eye, called a bandage contact lens, to help protect the eye's surface from further irritation.