Causes and Treatment of Bloodshot Eyes
If you want the whites of your eyes (the sclera) to return to their natural state, you can take allergy medication, get more sleep, use eye drops and seek out other natural solutions.
So how do you get rid of bloodshot eyes?
The causes of bloodshot eyes
Here are some things that could cause your eyes to be red or irritated:
Crying: If you’ve been crying, then your eyes are probably going to turn red. This will clear up on its own, but if you don’t want people to know you’ve been crying, you can always use eye drops to clear the redness.
Lack of sleep: You should get anywhere between seven to nine hours of sleep each night, depending on your age range. If you wake up before you finish your sleep cycle, one of the many side effects can be bloodshot eyes.
Allergies: If your eyes are red, itchy, swollen and/or tearful, you could be experiencing an allergic reaction. If you can’t avoid the allergens, try taking out your contact lenses, using eye drops, and using over-the-counter antihistamines or decongestants. (Note: If your eyes also have discharge, contact your eye doctor immediately — it may be a sign of conjunctivitis or other eye infection. )
Eye strain: If your eyes seem strained, they’ll likely become bloodshot. Eye strain can result from exposure to sunlight or blue light. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses outside and computer glasses in front of screens.
Debris: It’s easy to get an eyelash, dust or makeup in your eyes, but it can be difficult to remove that debris. If you have something annoying in your eye, try blinking to remove it, use a mirror and a cotton swab to carefully pull it out, or flush your eye with water.
Contact lens irritation: If you wear contact lenses and one of your eyes is bloodshot, you might have a problem with your lens. It’s possible your contact is inside out, torn or has debris trapped under it. If you wear reusable contacts, take out the offending lens and check to make sure it’s right-side-up and hasn't been ripped. If all that checks out, rinse your contact lens with solution before returning it to your eye.
If you wear daily disposable contact lenses, you’re better off tossing the bothersome lens and replacing it with a new one. If you continue to have issues with your contacts, talk to your eye doctor. It might be time to try a new brand.
Sun damage: If you go for years without wearing sunglasses, it’s possible to develop ultraviolet light damage on the clear membrane covering your eyes, which in turn can lead to chronic red eyes.
SEE RELATED: 19 red eye causes and how to treat red eyes
How to treat bloodshot eyes
If you don't have eye drops handy, try these simple tricks to get rid of your bloodshot eyes:
Cold compress: Try soaking a hand towel in cold water, ringing it out and placing it over your eyes to remove the redness.
Water rinse: A water rinse is a great substitute for eye drops. However, make sure that the water you’re using is filtered. Tap water can cause additional irritation.
Get better rest: It’s important to get the recommended amount of sleep for your age range. Not only will you feel better rested, but you may also get rid of the redness in your eyes without eye drops.
Change your contact lenses: If your multi-use contact lenses are getting old, changing them could remove the redness from your eyes. If you sleep in your contact lenses, consider not doing that anymore.
Blink more often: It’s easy to forget to blink, especially when you are glued to your smartphone. Blinking more often can relieve eye strain and make eye redness less likely. When you work on the computer or phone for long periods of time, studies show you do 50% to 66% less blinking than usual, which can dry out your eyes and make them red.
Take allergy medication: If allergies are the cause of your bloodshot eyes, allergy medications (such as antihistamines) could clear up that redness.
Get relief for your dry eyes: These treatments can range from oral flax oil capsules to punctal plugs and prescription eye drops.
Treat sun damage: Chronic redness from sun damage may be treated with a procedure called conjunctivoplasty.
When to call a doctor
No matter what’s causing your bloodshot eyes, you should consult with your eye doctor if your eyes are red for more than a few hours.
RELATED READING: Can I use Lumify eye drops for red eyes?
Page published in March 2020
Page updated in May 2021
Medically reviewed in April 2021