Bloodshot eyes appear red and irritated. This is a very common issue that people of all ages can experience. (Learn More)

Numerous factors can contribute to bloodshot eyes. (Learn More) Most often, bloodshot eyes will clear on their own. (Learn More)

In some cases, it might be necessary to visit an eye doctor. It is important to determine the underlying cause, so it can be effectively addressed.

Depending on the cause, doctors may recommend home remedies. Sometimes, medications like eye drops or additional treatments are needed. (Learn More)

What Are Bloodshot Eyes?

bloodshot

When the eyes are bloodshot, the sclera is red. The sclera is the white part of the eye.

For some people, only one eye is affected, while both eyes can be red for others.

The level of redness can range from pink to deep red in color. It may look like multiple squiggly lines on the white of the eye.

In some cases, redness is the only symptom a person experiences. But bloodshot eyes can also be accompanied by one or more of the following:

  • Irritation
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Burning
  • Dryness
  • Discharge
  • Sensitivity to light

When the eyes are bloodshot, it’s due to an abnormality with the small blood vessels that are on the eye’s surface. When these blood vessels are congested with blood and enlarged, they become noticeable due to the associated redness. This is because not enough oxygen gets to the tissues that cover the eye.

What Causes This Condition?

Most people will experience bloodshot eyes at some point in their life. The majority of the causes are not serious, and most often, people can treat the issue with conservative measures.

There are some more serious medical issues that cause bloodshot eyes as a symptom. These require evaluation and treatment from an eye doctor.

Infections can cause bloodshot eyes. There are several common eye infections.

  • Conjunctivitis is an infection that affects the clear covering of the eye. It is often called pink
  • Uveitis is characterized by inflammation of the eye’s uvea, which includes the ciliary body, iris, and choroid. When the iris is infected, the redness tends to be worse compared to an infected ciliary body or choroid.
  • Blepharitis is an infection along the eyelid’s edge.
  • Corneal ulcers are usually viral or bacterial, but fungi and parasites can also cause this issue. If this infection is not treated, it may lead to severe vision loss, eye loss, or scars on the cornea.

Environmental factors can contribute to bloodshot eyes. Dust, air pollution, chemicals, and wind are common causes. Some people develop eye redness due to smoke in the environment.

It is not uncommon for allergies, such as ragweed and pollen, to cause bloodshot eyes as a symptom. Eye strain and fatigue are other possible causes.

An injury to the eye could cause damage to the blood vessels, resulting in bloodshot eyes. Any trauma to the eye should be evaluated by a doctor to determine the extent of the injury.

Contact lenses can cause people to experience bloodshot eyes. There are several reasons why contacts can cause eye redness, such as:

  • Allergy to the contact lens solution.
  • Corneal ulcer.
  • Giant papillary conjunctivitis.
  • Dry eye syndrome.
  • Contact lenses that are defective or fit poorly.
  • Eye allergies.
  • Contact lens-induced red eye. This occurs due to a reaction to the toxins that are created by the eye’s normal bacteria. They bind to the contact lens instead of getting flushed from the eye when a person blinks. This is most often seen in people who do not remove their contacts before sleeping.

There are also certain medical conditions that might cause bloodshot eyes as a symptom. When the underlying condition is treated, bloodshot eyes usually dissipate as a symptom. These include the following:

  • Entropion
  • Ectropion
  • Glaucoma
  • Episcleritis
  • Keratitis
  • Stye
  • Subconjunctival hemorrhage
  • Chalazion
  • Orbital cellulitis

colored contacts

Are Bloodshot Eyes Reversible?

In most cases, bloodshot eyes will resolve on their own or with treatment, depending on the underlying cause. If eye redness persists, visit a doctor. Some cases simply require stronger treatments than over-the-counter remedies or waiting it out.

Though not common, there are certain causes that can be serious. A doctor can perform the proper testing to determine the underlying cause. This is especially important if bloodshot eyes occur along with other visual symptoms, such as the following:

  • Blurry vision
  • Swelling
  • Eye pus or other abnormal drainage
  • Vision halos
  • Sudden dryness or burning

Treatment Options

Ultimately, treatment depends on the cause. In most cases, bloodshot eyes are temporary and will alleviate on their own.

man using eyedropper on left eye

Once the underlying cause has been identified, doctors may recommend some home treatments.

  • A cool compress may help to alleviate redness and any itching or swelling. Ideally, the compress should be cool and not too cold, or this could worsen the symptoms.
  • A warm compress may help. It should be lukewarm or just slightly warmer. If it’s too hot, there is a risk of burning the skin or further irritating the eyes. The warmth helps to increase blood flow to this part off the body. It can also promote more lubrication for the eyes by increasing eyelid oil production.
  • Artificial tears may help if bloodshot eyes are the result of irritants or dryness. There are over-the-counter options that doctors usually recommend first. If these are not effective, they may prescribe a more potent option. It is important to follow the administration instructions exactly and never use more than is recommended.

It is not uncommon for contact lenses to cause chronic bloodshot eyes. Doctors might recommend trying a different type or wearing a new pair daily to see if this helps. You may also need to use a different contact solution since you may simply react poorly to a certain brand.

For some people, dehydration can cause bloodshot eyes, so it’s important to ensure proper hydration. Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids may also be beneficial. Some research shows that this nutrient could reduce inflammation, and inflammation may contribute to bloodshot eyes.

Be aware of your surroundings. Since allergies and other environmental factors can cause bloodshot eyes, it is important to know if these are present. If you identify the triggers, you can work to avoid the factors that irritate the eyes the most.

If you have chronic allergies, you might consider these treatments to reduce your symptoms:

  • Allergy medications
  • Eyedrops to lessen allergy symptoms
  • Immunotherapy when allergy symptoms are frequent and significant

If you experience bloodshot eyes that persist or come on suddenly, it is best to see a doctor. They can perform necessary testing to determine the underlying cause. This ensures the right treatment is administered.

References

Why Eye Redness Happens and How to Treat It. Healthline.

Local Heat Increases Blood Flow and Oxygen Tension in Wounds. (February 1987). Archives of Surgery.

Current Opinion in Ophthalmology Nutritional Supplements for Dry Eye Syndrome. (July 2011). Current Opinion in Ophthalmology.

Allergies. Mayo Clinic.

Red Eyes (Bloodshot Eyes): How to Treat Red Eyes. All About Vision.

Red Eyes: List of Common Causes. (March 2017). Medical News Today.

Corneal Ulcers and Infections. MedlinePlus.

Eye Redness. MedlinePlus.

7 Reasons Your Contacts Are Giving You Red Eyes. (July 2019). Verywell Health.