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Red Eyes – Complete Guide To Causes, Symptons, and Treatment

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If your eyes are red and bloodshot without a known cause, then this is definitely not something you want to ignore. But aside from lack of sleep or contact with a contaminant, most people don’t know why eyes turn red or the underlying causes. This type of redness can be your body’s way of trying to tell you something else is going on.

Eyes will turn red when the blood vessels found in the mucous membrane, called the conjunctiva, dilate as a response to irritation. This will make the blood vessels stand out, causing the whites of the eyes to take on a red or pink color.

If you’re attempting to self-treat, you should get to the root cause of the redness as opposed to simply fixing the discoloration. Below you’ll find a section entirely devoted the common causes, what treatment options are available and what you can do to improve eye health.

Causes of Chronic Red Eyes

Did you know that artificial tears with additives can be the underlying cause of ongoing issues with eye redness, itchy eyes, swelling, and general irritation? Most people don’t. Artificial tears are meant as a quick fix and shouldn’t be used in place of seeking medical attention. So, why do these drops cause so many eye issues?

Are Your Eyes Getting Red-Additives in Eye Drops May be to Blame

To start, the drops work by constricting the dilated blood vessels in the eyes. While it’s true that this can instantly clear up any redness, the vessels will dilate again once the drops lose their effectiveness. Unfortunately, when the drops wear off the blood vessels may be even bigger, causing increased redness. This can cause chronic redness and a cycle that’s hard to break, especially if you don’t know that the drops are what’s making your eyes look and feel worse. Whenever you notice eye redness and reach for those eye drops, make sure they don’t contain any harmful additives. Instead, find drops that are designed only to add and aid in maintaining moisture.

Eyes Stinging Tired

Eyes Stinging Tired

Let’s say you spend most of your day sitting at a computer, working for hours on end. During this time, you will not blink as often as you normally do. This can easily lead to eyestrain, which involves using your eyes so intensely that you’re causing severe exhaustion and irritation. This can also cause the conjunctiva to dilate. But for some, especially those with jobs that require them to spend plenty of time on the computer, preventing eyestrain isn’t always easy. However, there are some steps you can take that can help you combat eyestrain for good. Of course, these tips won’t work for everyone, but they can be helpful in mild to moderate cases.

First, remind yourself to blink when you’re focusing on something. Every fifteen minutes focus your eyes on an object in the distance that’s at least fifteen to twenty feet away. Do this for a period of thirty seconds.

Cessation Can Lead to Eyes Being Red

When you smoke a cigarette, it can release a variety of harmful chemicals including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and even formaldehyde, just to name a few. Obviously, these chemicals can be very irritating to the eyes and can lead to redness and inflammation.

Chlorine-When Eyes Become Red and Painful

After you go for a swim, you may notice that your eyes feel tender and sore and may even look bloodshot. This type of redness will develop when the blood vessels in the eye become irritated due to chlorine. If this happens to you often, try wearing goggles when you swim.

Allergies-Causes of Red Watery Eyes

Eye allergies are among the most common reason people suffer from redness and irritation. Allergies can cause the eyes to feel tender, itchy and can cause redness and eye pain and headache. These symptoms will usually worsen if the affected person rubs or scratches their eyes. This allergic reaction will occur when the immune system is working overtime, or it has an overreaction to a type of stimulus. The most common allergens are:

  • Detergents
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Dust

However, almost anything can set off a reaction. The redness will begin to slowly fade away once you have removed the allergen from your environment and are no longer exposed. Depending on the severity of your allergies, it can take a period of days or even weeks before your eyes are back to normal. In order to speed up the process, you can try cleaning out the eyes using artificial tears or by simply splashing water on your face. Cold and hot compresses can also be helpful. Your doctor may recommend over the counter eye drops that can work to soothe eye irritation, or, if your reaction is severe enough, they may prescribe medicated drops to provide immediate relief. Learning how to relieve watery eyes can also help to cut down on eye irritation and prevent irritating the skin surrounding the eyes.

Styes-When Eyes Stay Red

Styes are small red bumps that grow on the bottom edge of the eye or they can even grow on the eyelid. These bumps occur when an oil gland becomes clogged. Some people may only have one, but it’s possible to have dozens. These bumps resemble tiny pimples. The first sign of a stye is severe redness, in addition to swelling and general eye irritation. These bumps can also be caused by bacteria and can resolve on their own. However, in severe cases, medical intervention may be necessary. Fortunately, these growths will not affect your vision at all and in many cases, they can be merely a cosmetic issue.

Sleep Deprivation-Eyes Burning and Tired

Sleep Deprivation-Eyes Burning and Tired

When you don’t get much sleep it can cause the retention of fluid and blood around the eyes, which can cause redness and puffiness. Sleep deprivation can also result in chronic dry eye syndrome. As I’ve mentioned, eyes need lubrication via a constant supply of tears. This is why frequent blinking is so important. When the eyes are not allowed to close for a long period of time it can prevent the production of tears and proper fluid circulation.

Dry eye syndrome-When Eyes Become Red and Painful

This is another common culprit that can cause a variety of eye issues, including redness. If you have dry eye syndrome this means that your eyes are struggling to stay lubricated. This can happen for the same reason that eyestrain occurs; staring at a computer too long without blinking. But it can also happen if your eyes aren’t able to produce enough tears to keep the eyes moist. This lack of lubrication will result in eye irritation, causing the blood vessels to dilate, giving them that red, bloodshot look that we all loathe.

Other symptoms of dry eye syndrome include:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye discharge
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Stinging

This condition can feel never-ending, especially if you fail to seek medical attention or take certain precautions to prevent ongoing dryness. If you have to spend your days stuck behind a computer, try taking a ten-minute break at least once an hour. This isn’t to say you have to take frequent breaks from your work, just from your computer. Give this a try for one day and you’ll soon realize that your eyes feel and look much fresher. When your eyes are strained and don’t get the break they need, you can expect this condition to become worse. With proper precautions, it’s totally possible to prevent this condition from occurring or reoccurring in the future.

Conjunctivitis-One of the Most Common Causes of Eye Redness and Discharge

A wide range of thing can cause pink eye, not just contact with fecal matter. This includes other types of bacteria and viruses. Allergies and contact with chemicals or other types of irritants can also cause pink eye. Regardless of the cause, this condition occurs when something infects the conjunctiva. Obviously, aside from eye discharge, swelling, and itchiness, the eyes will also be very tender and red.

What causes eye discharge in babies? This is a common question many parents have. Unfortunately, babies and toddlers are also prone to viral and bacterial conjunctivitis. Some of the over the counter or home remedies are not appropriate for babies and small children. If you notice any discharge in your infant’s eyes, make an appointment with their pediatrician.

Can a cold cause eye discharge? Yes. Viral pink eye can develop in people who are suffering from sinusitis. Fortunately, no medication is needed to treat this form of conjunctivitis, which will typically resolve itself as your body recovers from the common cold.

Any type of eye discharge can be very stressful, especially if you don’t have the vacation time you need to stay at home until the redness, swelling, discharge, and itching subsides. In some cases, this type of condition will resolve on its own, if its caused by allergies or a virus. But if your case of pink eye is caused by bacteria it can easily spread to both eyes and will require medical intervention as soon as possible. If you know how to soothe irritated skin around the eyes and eyelids, you can also minimize your chances of spreading the bacteria to both eyes. Try applying a light layer of Vaseline, coconut oil, or aloe vera to prevent the excessive discharge from spreading and drying on the surface of the surrounding skin.

Contact Dermatitis-Chemical Exposure

Contact dermatitis can occur when your skin becomes exposed to chemicals and has an allergic response, usually in the form of redness, swelling, itchiness, and general irritation. When it comes to the eyes and this type of chemical exposure, anti-aging products are often to blame. Around the eye treatment is common, to minimize the appearance of crow’s feet, fine lines, wrinkles, or skin discoloration. Anti-aging products contain powerful ingredients that can accomplish this, but if you have very sensitive skin, then you may risk exposing yourself to contact dermatitis. Because of this, many manufacturers recommend testing a small portion of the skin with the product and waiting twenty-four hours before applying it liberally. If you’d like to learn about safe ways to minimize the appearance of wrinkles, read my article on how to get rid of wrinkles under your eyes when you smile.

Contact Lenses-Eyes Become Red

Contact Lenses

Wearing contacts can cause redness and irritation, especially if you leave them in overnight or just don’t take good care of them. If your eyes are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with contact lens wear, you can try switching to a different contact lens solution or use eye drops that are specifically designed for contact lens wearers. If you’ve switched up your contact lens solution and tried medicated eye drops with no positive results, then it may be time for a contact lens fitting.

Alcoholic Beverages- Dry Red Eye Causes

The consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause eye redness in some people. Alcohol can also make the blood vessels in the eyes to dilate, causing them to become more visible and larger in size. Since alcohol is dehydrating it can also cause the eyes to look red and irritated.

Cornea Damage- Causes of Red Eyes in Adults

You probably already know that the corneas are very delicate. Even the smallest scratch can cause serious damage and intense pain. But you may not know just how easy it is to injure the cornea. Sand, dirt, and even dust can cause a corneal abrasion, however, an abrasion will usually heal within a matter of a few days. Ulcers on the cornea are much more serious and occur due to an untreated infection that causes sores on the cornea. This condition is very painful and can lead to loss of vision if left untreated. The treatment for this type of corneal injury will depend on the cause, however, in most cases, antibiotics are often used for mild to moderately severe cases.

Eyes Red for No Reason-An Unknown Cause

If you’re experiencing redness and other eye-related symptoms, with an unknown cause, then it’s time to meet with your physician. It may surprise you how many people put off treatment for several months, only seeking help with the symptoms have intensified and negatively impacted their vision. Because some causes of eye redness can lead to permanent damage to your vision, immediate treatment is a must.

Different Types of Conditions that Can Lead to Red Eyes

There are certain, more serious conditions that can cause eye irritation, inflammation, and general redness. Below you’ll find an extensive list of said conditions, each of which will require medical attention.


This is a type of inflammation that involves the uvea. This condition will cause floaters, sensitivity to bright light, blurry vision, mild to moderate pain, and redness. Often the symptoms can occur quickly. This condition can have a variety of causes ranging from inflammatory diseases to eye injuries. Additionally, exposure to toxic chemicals can also cause uveitis. There are many different types of uveitis, which are classified based on where the inflammation occurs.

  • Anterior-Iris inflammation
  • Intermediate-Ciliary body inflammation
  • Posterior-Choroid inflammation
  • Diffuse-All areas of the uvea are inflamed

Unfortunately, most types of uveitis end up becoming chronic. This can lead to many different complications such as glaucoma, cataracts, and a cloudy cornea. Without proper treatment, these complications can result in permanent vision damage.

Common symptoms of uveitis can include:

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pain
  • Change in vision
  • Redness

There are many causes associated with uveitis including:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Viral infections

There are also several disorders that can cause uveitis, including:

  • Herpes
  • IBS
  • Spondylitis
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lyme disease
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • TB
  • Syphilis
  • Smoking

Fortunately, an optometrist can often identify the underlying cause of this condition based on the area of the eye that’s affected.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage

This can occur due to an injury to the eye, which causes the blood vessels in the eye to rupture. When this happens, the blood will spread out over the conjunctiva. Since the conjunctiva isn’t able to quickly absorb the blood, it will remain on the surface for a period of hours or even days. The eye will be red, but instead of a uniform redness all over the eye, it will remain in concentrated spots.



This conditions can cause the eyes to look red, but it’s actually the eyelid that’s inflamed and irritated. Blepharitis can occur for a number of reasons, such as an allergic reaction to makeup, or blocked glands. Signs of this condition include eye redness, itching, crusty eyes, swelling, eye drainage, eye discharge, and soreness. To learn more about the dangers of chronic blepharitis and how to treat it, read my guide on how to get rid of blepharitis for good.


Some diseases cause red eyes, such as glaucoma. This is a very serious eye condition which must be treated immediately and is considered a serious medical emergency. This condition will occur when there is a significant increase in fluid buildup inside of the eye. It will typically cause sudden eye redness, in addition to severe pain, headache, and nausea.


Episcleritis involves the inflammation of the thin layer of tissue found between the sclera and the conjunctiva. This condition will cause mild to moderate pain in the eyes, in addition to redness and irritation. In reality, this condition tends to look worse than it is. If left untreated, most cases of episcleritis will resolve on its own. However, this condition can indicate inflammatory issues that are present somewhere in the body.

In some cases, episcleritis can produce eye redness. Some people can also develop a condition called nodular episcleritis in which white nodules will develop all over the eyes. Some people with episcleritis will experience significant discomfort and pain while others will not experience any symptoms outside of redness. Other symptoms associated with this condition include a watery discharge and sensitivity to light. For the most part, doctors will have difficulty pinpointing the underlying cause, but in severe cases, the underlying cause is ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

There are two different types of episcleritis; nodular and simple. Simple can develop into nodular. In its basic form, episcleritis can cause episodes of redness and inflammation that can last for up to ten days.

As I mentioned, nodular episcleritis can produce more severe episodes of redness, inflammation, and pain.

Possible Treatments for Eye Irritation and Redness

As you know, at some point, most people will experience some type of eye redness. For the most part, this problem is usually not long-lasting and can be more frustrating than dangerous. There are many types of prescription or over the counter medications designed to treat redness. However, determining what is causing this issue is the first step and one that will point you in the right direction in terms of effective treatment. With mild redness, this is mainly just a cosmetic concern. It’s perfectly fine to treat minor eye irritation with eye drops. As long as they’re additive-free, over the counter drops can help ease irritation from dry eye or mild irritation. These drops are not meant to treat the underlying cause of the redness, they’ll simply provide some temporary relief. For more serious causes of redness, prescription medications and drops seem to work better.

Typically, a person doesn’t need to see a physician if they have mild eye redness. However, the following symptoms, in addition to redness, can indicate that medical treatment is necessary:

  • Trouble seeing
  • Blurry vision
  • Yellow or green discharge
  • Chronic irritation
  • Feeling pressure in or behind the eyes
  • Pain and intense itching

Over the Counter

Possible Treatments for Eye Irritation and Redness

Popular over the counter treatments include:

Naphazoline-This chemical is usually found in popular over the counter eye drops. It’s actually a decongestant and works well to minimize irritation and redness.

Tetrahydrozoline-This is one of the main active ingredients in Visine. It’s also a decongestant that reduces redness that’s caused by eye irritation, exhaustion, and allergies.

Hot Compresses-A hot compress will not only feel soothing, but it will also help to reduce redness and swelling. It can also unclog blocked glands, a common cause of eye irritation and discharge.


If over the counter treatment isn’t effective, then it’s finally time to seek medical attention from a professional, especially if your symptoms have lasted longer than three days and are accompanied by other symptoms including pain, discharge, or swelling.

Medicated eye drops are often the go-to treatment for many conditions. Optometrists will prescribe the following treatments based on the underlying condition:

  • Medicated drops designed to reduce pressure in the eyes for patients diagnosed with glaucoma
  • Antibiotic ointment or drops for infection
  • Prescription-strength artificial tears for patients struggling with chronic dry eyes

Are Eye Drops Safe For Everyone?

No. In certain cases, these drops can worsen symptoms, especially in people with a glaucoma diagnosis. If you have been recently diagnosed with glaucoma, steer clear of over the counter artificial tears which can increase the feeling of pressure in the eyes. Additionally, women who are nursing or pregnant should also avoid artificial tear use and consult their physician regarding safe eye treatment. Many people aren’t aware that these drops can potentially affect the development of the fetus and can even travel to the breast milk.

Tips, Advice, And Ideas

Your eyes are often one of the first features someone will notice. So, if your eyes are swollen, irritated, and red, you’re not exactly making a great first impression. But aside from how your eyes look, redness is often accompanied by some form of irritation, whether it’s swelling, discharge, pain, stinging, or general fatigue. There are ways to prevent and reduce the appearance of this type of eye irritation, which I’ll go over below.

In many cases, redness will be temporary and can clear up on its own. If you’re eager to get rid of your eye irritation ASAP, try the following tips for eyes that look bright, clear, and healthy:

  • Get enough sleep. Most physicians recommend at least seven to eight hours of sleep at night. If you’re only sleeping four to five hours a night then you can expect to wake up with sore, red, tired eyes.
  • Take off your makeup before bed. Sleeping in your makeup can cause blepharitis. It’s one of the main causes and it can easily be prevented if you remove your eye makeup prior to bedtime. Invest in a good makeup remover and use a gentle cleaner after use to remove any remaining traces of eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara.
  • Use a warm compress once you notice any signs of eye fatigue or irritation. After a long day at the office sitting behind your computer, your eyes are probably red, stinging, and begging for sleep. If you notice any of these signs, whether mild or severe, immediately grab a hot wet washcloth and rest it over both of your eyes for a period of five to ten minutes. This is one of the most effective and safest ways to prevent eye irritation.
  • Use a cold compress if heat isn’t helping to relieve irritation. Soak a washcloth in cold water and place it over your eyes. Cold will be a better option if you’re dealing with redness that’s accompanied by swelling.
  • Find eye drops that work for you and keep a bottle with you at the office, in the car, and at home. While it’s true that eye drops aren’t the answer for serious causes of redness, they can provide immediate relief and may even prevent irritation from worsening. Eye drops can be the solution when other over the counter treatments fail. However, they shouldn’t be used for the long-term and will not be very effective when it comes to curing the underlying cause of redness.

Long-Term Treatment Options

If you experience irritation or redness more than two to three times a week, then you need more effective treatment options.

  • Contact lens irritation can lead to serious eye issues if you don’t take action. If you find that your contact lenses are now causing irritation and discomfort, then maybe it’s time you switch to a different brand. Some types of materials found in lenses can increase the chances of eye irritation. Additionally, the contact lens solution can also be to blame. If you’ve noticed that your contact lenses are no longer comfortable to wear and you’ve switched to a new contact lens solution, it may be time to go back to your old brand or try another product. There are certain ingredients in contact solution that can cause redness, dryness, or in severe cases, swelling. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms since you switched brands, stop using the solution immediately.
  • Increase your water intake. Doing so can help to keep you hydrated and keep eye irritation and redness at bay. Ideally, you should consume one gallon of water a day. However, for most people, this simply isn’t realistic. So, shoot for a minimum of eight glasses of water a day to promote eye health.
  • Did you know that your diet can also have an impact on eye health? Well, it can. Eating a diet that’s high in inflammatory foods can lead to redness and irritation. Fast food, processed foods, and even dairy can all cause inflammation. In order to avoid this, try limiting your intake of inflammatory foods to one serving a day, if possible. If you believe that your eye irritation has been caused by your diet, try taking a fish oil supplement or increase your weekly intake of fatty fish sources, such as salmon.

When it’s Time to See a Doctor

If you’re not sure whether or not you’re dealing with a serious health condition due to chronic issues with eye health, make an appointment with your physician. You should also seek medical treatment if:

  • You’re experiencing changes in vision
  • Recovering from a head trauma injury that’s accompanied by eye irritation
  • Redness has persisted for more than five days
  • Chemical exposure
  • Recently underwent eye surgery

To assist your doctor with pinpointing the underlying cause of your eye irritation, answer the following questions:

  • On a scale of one to ten, what is your pain level?
  • Are you experiencing any light sensitivity?
  • Are your eyes producing any discharge, and if so, what color is the discharge?
  • Do you wear contact lenses?
  • Have you come into contact with chemicals recently?
  • Do you have a history of vision problems or eye irritation?
  • How long have you been experiencing redness and irritation?

Final Thoughts

For some, the appearance of red eyes can be very distressful, especially if you have family photos that day, an important meeting, or you simply want to look your best and feel refreshed. So, why do eyes turn red? Eyes can become red and irritated for a number of reasons including lack of sleep, allergies, or exposure to harmful chemicals. It can also be caused by a serious underlying health condition such as lupus or glaucoma. The redness is due to the blood vessels in the eyes dilating. In most cases, redness is harmless and often looks worse than it really is. But in situations in which your experiencing ongoing irritation and redness medical attention will be necessary. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize redness, swelling, and irritation. This guide should not be used in place of medical treatment, in serious cases, but if you’re suffering from mild irritation and redness, you’ll find that many of these tips, treatment options, and home remedies can be very effective in reducing redness and irritation.

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