In taking a history from a patient with a red eye, the clinician must consider not only intrinsic eye problems as a cause, but also whether the red eye forms part of a systemic inflammatory disorder. The initial history must cover general features, such as the duration and course of the problem and whether one or both eyes are affected. Other factors that need to be considered when taking a history are:

Recognising common symptoms

Common non-specific symptoms described by patients with a red eye include:

  • Watering
  • Itching
  • Discharge (clear or purulent) and stickiness, particularly on waking

Recognising severe symptoms

Other symptoms may suggest a more serious cause for the red eye:

  • Visual disturbance
  • Pain – particularly if severe
  • Photophobia
  • Current or previous joint or bowel symptoms