If you have ever flown on an overnight flight — one that takes off around 11 p.m. and lands at its destination the next day — you have taken a “red eye” flight. These flights earned this nickname because passengers tend to have red eyes the next morning. (Learn More)

Red eyes are usually not a major issue, but there are some concerning reasons why you may have bloodshot eyes. (Learn More)

Various treatments are available to treat red eyes. (Learn More) There are times when it is best for you to go to the doctor right away. (Learn More)

red eye vs non red

Common Causes of Red Eyes

Red eyes occur when irritation or an infection cause your blood vessels to expand. You may sometimes have one red eye, but other times, both eyes will be affected.

Red eyes are normally caused by these conditions:

  • Smoking: Smoke can release toxins that irritate the eye and cause bloodshot eyes.
  • Swimming: Pools or water treated with chlorine can trigger red eyes.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes may cause decreased production of tears.
  • Sleep deprivation: This can cause your eyes to become dry and red.
  • Alcohol: It can dehydrate you, causing redness.
  • Cold and allergies: Both can result in red eyes.
  • Conjunctivitis: Known as pink eye, this is an infection of the clear layer that protects the eye.
  • Contact lenses and eye drops: These can cause dry eyes and worsen the dilation that makes your eyes appear red.
  • Corneal scratches: These are often caused by using contact lenses for too long or when sand and other items scratch the cornea.
  • Uveitis: This is inflammation of the eye’s uvea, or the middle layer of the eye.
  • Blepharitis: This is inflammation of the outer edges of the eyelid.

When You Should Visit the Doctor

Most of the things that cause you to have red eyes are not serious. Your red eyes may require medical attention if you have experienced:

  • A recent head or eye injury.
  • Vision loss.
  • Recent surgery to the eye.
  • A history of chronic pain.
  • An injury caused by chemical contact.
  • Crust or mucus around the eyes that is yellow or green in color.

You should contact your doctor if your red eyes persist for a week. Autoimmune conditions, such as psoriasis, sarcoidosis, and ulcerative colitis, may set off uveitis. Infections, such as syphilis, AIDS, tuberculosis, and herpes zoster, can also trigger this condition.

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) and blepharitis are sometimes caused by bacterial infections. Using eyes drops consistently may not help you.

You should see your doctor if you have injured your eye, or you have a hemorrhage, which looks like a big red spot.

Conditions like glaucoma may also cause your eyes to turn red. You will also experience blurry vision and pressure. This may only affect one of your eyes.

The Best Ways to Get Rid of Red Eyes

Some home remedies can relieve red eyes that are not caused by serious issues needing medical attention.

  • Use cold compresses. Soak a cloth in ice water, and then twist off excess water. Frozen vegetable bags can also be used.
  • Try warm compresses. Use the same process as with making a cold compress. Make sure the water is not too hot to the touch. This may stimulate more tear production, which can relieve red eye as your eyes become more lubricated.
  • Stay away from irritants. Avoid common irritants, such as smoke, pet dander, dust, chlorine, or pollen.

Other remedies might include:

  • Antibiotics that decrease inflammation in the eyelids.
  • Cholinergics, or drugs that stimulate tear production.
  • Autologous blood serum drops. These are eyedrops created from your blood. Your doctor will take a blood sample and combine it with a salt solution. They are prescribed if your eyes do not respond to other treatments. They are often used for dry eyes.
  • Changing your contact lenses. This can help if your eyes are red because of your contacts.
  • Dietary changes. Drinking more water can help you produce enough tears and enhance your overall health.

A Word on Eye Dropswoman using eyedrops in her eye

There are times when eye drops will be the best way to treat bloodshot eyes. The key is to find the right kind of eye drops to treat the problem.

  • Artificial tears can help if you have dry eyes.
  • Antihistamine eye drops may be especially helpful to people who have red, itchy eyes caused by allergies. Some over-the-counter brands available are Naphcon-A or Opcon-A.
  • Vasoconstrictor drops cause blood vessels to constrict, removing red eye. However, they are known to cause “rebound red eye,” which means blood vessels may appear wider than before.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common causes of red eyes?

Irritants (such as chlorine, fumes, and smoke), alcohol, contacts, swimming, pregnancy, and overuse of eye drops are common causes of red eyes. Other conditions, such as bacterial infections, hemorrhages, and inflammation, can cause you to have red eyes as well.

Are red eyes a serious health concern?

Red eyes will usually go away on their own in a week or two. When using remedies, they may even go away in a day or two.

When should I visit the doctor?

If your red eyes are accompanied by eye pain, or you have had a recent head injury, chemical injury, a reduction in vision, or history of chronic pain, you should visit a doctor for evaluation.

What are the best treatments for red eyes?

Cold or warm compresses, a change in contact lens prescription, and avoiding irritants might be enough to get rid of red, bloodshot eyes.

Eye drops can reduce eye redness. There are different kinds available that can help you, depending on the cause of your red eyes.

The best treatment for your eyes may be antibacterial medications, cholinergic medications that can increase tear production, and blood serum drops.

References

Red Eye. (February 2019). Mayo Clinic.

18 Reasons You May Have Red and Bloodshot Eyes. (August 2019). Verywell Health.

Eye Redness. (August 2018). MedlinePlus.

Top Treatments for Red Eyes. (August 2019). Verywell Health.

Why Eye Redness Happens and How to Treat It. (May 2016). Healthline

Dry Eyes. (March 2019). Mayo Clinic.

Home Remedies for Bloodshot Eyes—And When to See a Doctor. (October 2017). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Uveitis. (August 2018). MedlinePlus.