Red Eyes: A Complete Guide

Red eyes or redness of the eye is one of the most common eye problems, affecting either one or both eyes. In most cases, the causes of red eyes are non-threatening and don’t require any treatment. The redness that is observed is a result of dilated or expanded blood vessels in the region, which can occur as a result of irritation or infection. Most often today, red eyes are a result of eye strain because of the amount of time we spend in front of digital screens. While you don’t need to worry about red or bloodshot eyes in most cases, the reasons for red eyes can sometimes be concerning, especially if there are accompanying symptoms like eye pain, discharge, and changes in vision, or if the redness lasts for a considerable amount of time.

Causes of Red Eyes

There are various possible causes of red eyes and depending on the cause the condition may last for a longer duration or cause other symptoms like itching, discharge, and eye pain. If redness is simply a result of eye strain or inadequate sleep, the problem resolves quickly once you take a break from work or get enough sleep. In other cases, the most common causes for red eyes include:

Allergies or Irritation

Exposure to certain allergens or irritants can cause inflammation of the blood vessels, producing redness as well as irritation. Common irritants include dry air, dust, pet dander, smoke, and exposure to UV radiation.

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

The term sounds serious, but this is not a threatening condition. Typically, you will notice a blood blotch in one eye after a bout of coughing or due to eye strain. This can look scary, but usually resolves without treatment within a week. If there are other accompanying symptoms or if the problem is recurrent, you should seek medical care as it may be a symptom of vascular diseases (1).

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Infections can be a lot more serious, but if dealt with swiftly, most infections won’t cause any permanent damage. Bacterial and viral infections can affect different structures of the eye, resulting in other symptoms, including irritation, itching, pain, burning sensation, discharge, and changes in vision. Conjunctivitis or pink eye is the most common infection to affect the eyes, inflaming the membrane that covers the eyes. Blepharitis, which is an infection that inflames the eyelids or eyelash follicles to be more specific is also fairly common. There are also other infections like corneal ulcers and uveitis that can be more threatening.

In addition to eye infections, minor redness of the eyes can also occur when you suffer from common infections like colds and coughs or the seasonal flu.

In addition to the causes listed above, there are some other possible reasons for red eyes. These include:

  • Eye injuries or trauma to the eyes
  • Scleritis or inflammation of the sclera (white part of the eye)
  • Styes
  • Acute glaucoma
  • Overuse of contact lenses
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Use of marijuana or cannabis

Red Eyes Treatment

In most cases, red eyes treatment does not require any medical intervention, unless accompanied by other symptoms. You can simply use red eyes home remedies like warm compresses to reduce inflammation. You can also use a saline solution to rinse out your eyes if the redness is caused by exposure to irritants or overuse of contact lenses (2). Some of the most effective red eyes treatments include over the counter eye drops that you will find at your local pharmacy. Redness and inflammation caused by conjunctivitis and blepharitis can also be treated at home with OTC eye drops.

If there is no improvement with home treatments, if the condition worsens, or if there are other symptoms like pain and vision changes, you should immediately seek treatment from your doctor. Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor can prescribe a wide variety of treatments, including prescription eye drops, antibiotics, creams, and other medications. For most conditions, early treatment is effective and reduces the risk of any permanent damage.

In rare cases, red eyes could be a symptom of a more serious health condition such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, leukemia, or sarcoidosis. This is why early diagnosis and treatment is important when the condition persists for more than a few days or if there are other symptoms. You can also follow some simple tips to treat or prevent eye redness:

  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes when outdoors
  • Make it a point to use contact lenses as recommended – proper hygiene and for limited duration
  • Limit or avoid activities that are known to cause eyestrain
  • Use photoprotective glasses if you spend significant amounts of time in the sun
  • Avoid the use of cheap facial cosmetics and make sure to remove makeup from your eyes
  • Limit exposure to smoke, dust, and other irritants that cause eye inflammation

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