Red eyes can spark questions like “are you sick?” and are often accompanied by irritation, pain, and swelling.
A bloodshot appearance results from swollen or dilated blood vessels on the outer surface of the eye, known as the sclera.
Red eyes are common, but they may also be a sign of a more serious condition...
Signs You May Need to See a Doctor
Discharge from the Eyes
White, yellow, or green discharge in addition to redness may be a sign of bacterial conjunctivitis, which affects the white of the eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be sight-threatening without appropriate treatment.
Blurry Vision or Sensitivity to Light
If red eyes are accompanied by sensitivity to bright light or blurry vision, or both, you may have a condition known as uveitis. Uveitis can present with or without pain and should be treated promptly by your doctor to prevent lasting problems.
Pain or a Foreign Body Sensation
Materials like metal shavings, sawdust, and sand can become embedded in the cornea and cause a serious infection. If you experience redness as well as pain that gets worse when you open or close your eye, you may have a foreign body in your eye. This corneal condition requires urgent attention from a doctor.
Your Job and Physical Location Increase Your Risk
If you work in a healthcare setting or with young children, you are more likely to be exposed to viruses and bacteria that can result in red eyes. You are also at an increased risk if you are surrounded by allergens such as pollen or chemicals like chlorine, as these can irritate your eyes.
Why Are Your Eyes Bloodshot? Seven Primary Causes
Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis causes the blood vessels in the lining of the eye to swell. Conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye infections and may be caused by a virus, bacteria, or irritant.
When your tear glands do not produce enough quality tears, your eyes may become scratchy and inflamed. Dry eyes can develop as a result of age, health conditions, and extended computer use.
If you come into contact with an allergen, your immune system will react by releasing histamine. Histamine causes the blood vessels in your eyes to dilate, making them appear red. Allergies also tend to make the eyes itch, and rubbing your eyes in response can add to the problem.
A Broken Blood Vessel
A broken blood vessel on the sclera, also known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage, can cause part or all of the eye to appear bright red. Despite its appearance, a broken blood vessel typically causes no visual problems or discomfort.
It is important to clean your contact lenses after use to prevent deposits from building up on the surface, which can irritate your eyes. Developing red eyes while wearing contacts can also be a sign of a fungal infection.
In response to an ocular injury, the blood vessels in your eyes may enlarge to encourage more blood flow. Though dilation promotes healing, it also causes the eyes to look red.
Take Breaks at Work
A leading cause of red eyes, "dry eye is more common in adults over 50, but it often affects younger people who spend a lot of time staring at computer screens." Andrew E. Holzman, MD, FACS
Prevention Is Unique to the Cause
If you regularly experience red, irritated eyes, simple lifestyle changes may relieve your symptoms and prevent issues from recurring.
Stay Hydrated and Eat Healthy
A nutritious diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation. You can find omega-3s in fish, seeds, and nuts, or you can take daily omega-3 supplements. Drinking eight cups of water a day can also keep your eyes strong and healthy.
Change Your Prescription
If your eyes become red after wearing contact lenses, you may consider a different type of lens or a new solution. Some solutions contain ingredients that are not compatible with all lenses. This combination may be irritating your eyes.
A Comprehensive Exam Can Establish the Cause of Red Eyes
|Length of Exam
|Pain during Exam
|30 minutes to one hour or more
|Little to none
Diagnosing red eyes will depend on the underlying source of your concern. Your doctor can review your medical history and conduct a thorough examination. If an irritant is a likely culprit, your doctor may flush your eye with a saline solution. If you need to administer drops at home, the doctor can demonstrate the easiest and most effective way of doing so.
An exam can take anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour or more.
Treatment for Red Eyes Varies Depending on the Cause
Time and Patience
In cases of subconjunctival hemorrhage, treatment is simply time. The condition should clear on its own in one to two weeks.
Anti-Inflammatory Eye Drops
If you have allergic conjunctivitis, your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory or antihistamine eye drops to relieve symptoms. Keep in mind that in cases of viral conjunctivitis, eye drops will not cure the condition but only minimize discomfort.
To address dry eyes, you may need artificial tears to lubricate the eyes. Prescription eye drops may be recommended in more advanced cases. This can help to reduce inflammation as well as moisten the surface of the eye.
If your condition is caused by a corneal abrasion or a foreign object in the eye, you may need a more aggressive form of treatment. Surgery can repair the eye and restore your sight.
Schedule a Visit Today
Because there are so many possible causes of red eyes, the best way to determine appropriate treatment is to schedule a visit with an eye care professional. At your exam, be prepared to discuss your medical history as well as any medications you are currently taking. You should also take note of any circumstances that aggravate or improve your condition.