By Troy Bedinghaus, OD


The term “red eye” is used to describe red, bloodshot eyes. If you’ve ever had bloodshot eyes, you may have wondered what you did to cause your eyes to become so irritated. Many people suffer from red eye every once and awhile, but a red eye is not normal and can be caused by a number of things. If you have a red eye, it is important to find out why. A red eye can be a sign of a medical emergency. A red eye is usually painless and develops when blood vessels near the surface of the eye become enlarged and dilated. Some culprits of red eye can cause your eyes to feel inflamed and irritated, so you may find yourself seeking relief from your eye doctor. While it is always best to seek the advice of your eye doctor, you may want to try a few red eye home remedies first, at least to get a little relief.

1. Pink Eye: Some cases of red eye are caused by pink eye. Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the clear, protective layer that coats the front part of the eye. Pink eye can be caused by allergies, bacteria, viruses, or toxic substances. Pinkeye is very common but is usually not serious.

2. Blepharitis: Blepharitis causes inflammation of the eyelid and eyelashes and may be caused by poor eyelid hygiene. Oily eyelid glands, allergic reactions, bacterial infections, or lice on the eyelashes are also common causes of blepharitis. If you have blepharitis, you may notice a gritty or burning sensation in your eyes, excessive tearing, itching, red and swollen eyelids, dry eyes, or crusting of your eyelids. The condition is not contagious and usually does not cause permanent damage to your eyesight.

3. Uveitis: Uveitis, an inflammation of the eye’s uvea, can cause redness, pain, blurry vision, floaters and light sensitivity. Symptoms of this condition can occur suddenly and get worse very quickly. Uveitis should be treated quickly because other complications, such as uveitic glaucoma or retinal and choroidal scarring, may occur if it lingers.

4. Dry Eye: Do your eyes feel dry? Tears protect our eyes by lubricating, nourishing and protecting the surface of the eye. When tears are lacking, our eyes can become dry and irritated. Chronic dryness can cause the surface of the eyes to become inflamed and blood vessels to dilate, causing increased redness. Ironically, dry eye can actually cause your eyes to produce abundant tears, as your eyes often respond to discomfort by producing more tears.

5. Frequent Use of Eye Drops: Do you reach for eye drops when you wake up to red eyes? Surprisingly, frequent use of “get the red out” eye drops can actually make the eyes appear even redder. These whitening eye drops cause blood vessels in the eye to dilate, causing the eyes to appear even more bloodshot. Before instilling eye drops of any kind, it’s a good idea to first consult with your eye doctor to identify the cause of your red eyes.

6. Contact Lens Wear: Wearing contact lenses can sometimes cause eye redness. In some people, simply having a contact lens in the eye is enough to make the eye red. If you experience discomfort while wearing contact lenses, you may want to try re-wetting drops. These eye drops are formulated for contact lenses and can provide relief for dry eyes and discomfort associated with contact lens wear.

7. Injury: Redness sometimes occurs with an eye injury. Injuring your eye could be as simple as sticking yourself with a mascara wand or accidentally wiping your eye with a sharp fingernail. When you injure your eye, blood vessels inside the eye enlarge and dilate to bring blood and cells to heal and repair the injury. A red eye resting from an injury is also a warning sign to let you know that something is wrong with your eye.

8. Corneal Ulcer or Infection: If the eye’s cornea becomes infected, nearby blood vessels become enlarged and swollen, as cells rush in to help fight the infection. These cells can cause visible redness. This occurs because the cornea is avascular, meaning normally, the cornea does not have any blood vessels in it. It gets most of its oxygen and nutrients from the tears and outside atmosphere. With a corneal infection, the nearby blood vessels enlarge to get important inflammatory cells to the site quickly.

9. Subconjunctival Hemorrhage: Red eye is sometimes caused by a blood vessel inside the eye. A burst blood vessel often causes subconjunctival hemorrhage. When broken, these vessels bleed and spread out underneath the conjunctiva. Subconjunctival hemorrhage can be caused by sneezing, coughing, straining, vomiting, trauma, high blood pressure, diabetes and sometimes from certain blood disorders.

10. Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma: Sometimes a red eye can signal a serious condition. One very serious eye condition that may cause red eye is acute angle-closure glaucoma.  Acute angle-closure glaucoma is a serious medical emergency that must be treated immediately. It occurs when the fluid pressure inside the eye rises quickly. This serious type of glaucoma usually causes sudden redness in the eye, severe eye pain, and blurred vision (usually occurring in only one eye.)

Source: Wu, Brian. “Red eyes: List of common causes.



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