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Redness of the eyes: Causes and symptoms

  1. About
  2. Causes
  3. What To Do
close-up of a woman with red eye

What are red eyes and how can you treat them?

Red eyes (or red eye) is a condition in which the white surface of the eye becomes reddened or "bloodshot."

Red eye can occur in one or both eyes, and it can be associated with several symptoms, including:

In some cases, bloodshot eyes may have no symptoms other than redness.

Red or bloodshot eyes are very common and have many causes. Red eye usually is a symptom of other eye conditions that can range from benign to serious.

What causes red eyes?

The appearance of red eyes is caused by dilation of tiny blood vessels located between the white surface of your eye and the overlying clear conjunctiva. These tiny blood vessels (many of which normally are invisible) can become swollen because of environmental or lifestyle-related reasons or because of specific eye problems.

Red eyes are usually caused by allergy, eye fatigue, over-wearing contact lenses, or common eye infections such as pink eye (conjunctivitis). However, redness of the eye sometimes can signal a more serious eye condition or disease, such as glaucoma.

Environmental causes of red, bloodshot eyes include:

  • Airborne allergens (causing eye allergies)

  • Air pollution

  • Smoke (fire-related, second-hand cigarette smoke, etc.)

  • Dry air (arid climates, airplane cabins, office buildings, etc.)

  • Dust

  • Airborne fumes (gasoline, solvents, etc.)

  • Chemical exposure (chlorine in swimming pools, etc.)

  • Overexposure to sunlight (without UV-blocking sunglasses)

Common eye conditions that cause red eyes include:

Serious eye conditions that can cause red eyes include:

Lifestyle factors also can contribute to your red eye risk.

For example, smoking can definitely cause red eyes, as can with alcohol consumption. Sustained use of digital devices and insufficient sleep are other lifestyle-related causes of red eyes.

How to get rid of red eyes

Because red eyes have so many causes (including some that are serious and require immediate attention), you should see your eye doctor right away if you have red, bloodshot eyes — especially if the redness comes on suddenly and is associated with discomfort or blurred vision.

Also, consult with your eye doctor before using any eye drops. If you are already using any eye drops frequently over a period of time, you may start needing to use them more often to keep red eye from coming back. And you might experience more severe red eye symptoms if you stop using the drops.

For the best and safest way to get rid of red eyes, consult with your eye doctor to determine the cause of your red eyes and receive the most effective treatment options.

Until you can visit your eye doctor about your red eye problem, remove your contact lenses (if you wear them) and wear your glasses instead. And bring your contact lenses with you to your appointment so your doctor can evaluate whether your contact lenses are causing your red eyes.

You also may want to moisten your eyes frequently with preservative-free lubricating eye drops until you can see your eye doctor.

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