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  • Writer's pictureWillow Eye Clinic

What do you do when you have a red eye?

Updated: Jun 20

One of the most common reasons for someone to seek care from an eye doctor is when they develop a red eye. If you have a red eye and are in Ontario, Canada, there are a few medical professionals you can seek help from without requiring a referral:

The Optometrist: In Ontario, optometrists can diagnose the cause of your red eye, and provide necessary treatment such as prescribing oral and topical medications if required. Our clinic offers same-day walk-in appointments if available during office hours. Most of the time, a visit to the optometrist can be covered under the eye exam portion of your private health insurance. For those under age 19 or 65 and over, the visit may also be covered under your Ontario health card. For rare and more extreme cases of red eyes that may require additional treatment, such as surgery and invasive procedures, the optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist for additional care.

red eye

The Pharmacist: Beginning early 2023, Ontarians with a valid health card can obtain a prescription for red eyes from a pharmacist. It is important to note that pharmacists typically do not carry or operate any specialty equipment to examine your eyes. If a prescription is given, it is typically based on your symptoms only; thus, there is a chance of misdiagnosis. This may be an option to consider during after office hours when access to other healthcare professionals is limited.

Family Doctor: Family physicians can diagnose and treat most common forms of red eyes. However, most family doctor offices do not carry specialized ocular testing equipment, such as a tonometer to measure eye pressure, making some forms of red eyes more difficult to accurately diagnose. In more complex cases, a family doctor may refer you to an optometrist or an ophthalmologist for further evaluation.

Emergency Department: This should be reserved for severe cases of red eyes that typically come with other systemic or visually threatening symptoms such as extreme nausea, vomiting, and/or significant decrease in vision.

Infection is not always the reason behind a red eye. Some cases of red eye may become visually threatening if not caught and treated early enough. It is best to seek care as soon as possible when you develop a red eye.

Written by: Dr. Sandy Zhu

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