Episcleritis refers to inflammation of your episclera, which is a clear layer on top of the white part of your eye, called the sclera. There’s another clear layer outside of the episclera called the conjunctiva. This inflammation causes your eye to look red and irritated. Episcleritis often looks like pink eye, but it doesn’t cause discharge. It also may go away on its own.

If your eye looks very red and feels painful, or your vision is blurry, seek immediate treatment. You may have a related condition called scleritis, which requires more aggressive treatment and can lead to permanent eye damage.

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Episcleritis Image source: Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The main symptom of episcleritis is redness in usually one or occasionally both eyes. There are two types of episcleritis, and they look slightly different from each other:

  • Simple. Redness in a section and sometimes throughout the eye with minimal discomfort.
  • Nodular. Slightly raised bumps surrounded by dilated blood vessels, usually in one area of the eye, that may cause discomfort.

While simple and nodular episcleritis look slightly different, they share many of the same symptoms, including:

  • tearing
  • sensitivity to bright light
  • a hot, prickly, or gritty sensation in the eye

These symptoms usually don’t affect your vision. They may also go away on their own after a few weeks and return several months later.

The exact cause of episcleritis is unknown. However, it tends to occur more often in people with inflammatory diseases, such as:

To diagnose episcleritis, your eye doctor will give you a thorough eye exam. They’ll likely start by looking at the color of your eyes. If the discoloration is more of a bluish purple, rather than red, they might diagnose you with scleritis instead.

You’ll also be given a slip lamp exam. This involves using a device called a slit lamp, which gives your doctor a 3D-view of the front of your eyes. Your doctor might apply eye drops before a slit lamp exam to make any abnormalities easier to see.

Episcleritis often goes away on its own. If the appearance bothers you, or it keeps coming back, you can talk to your doctor about different treatment options.

These include:

  • corticosteroid eye drops
  • artificial tear eye drops
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • treating an underlying inflammatory condition

While you wait for your episcleritis to clear up, there are a few things you can do to manage its symptoms, such as:

  • applying a cool compress over your eyes with your eyes closed
  • applying artificial tear eye drops
  • wearing sunglasses outside

Episcleritis might look alarming, but it’s a common condition that usually doesn’t cause any long-term problems. It usually goes away on its own within a few weeks, but certain treatments can help to speed up the process.

While you wait for your eye to heal, try to protect your eyes from bright lights and apply soothing eye drops or a cold compress.