Red Eyes – Bloodshot Eyes

There are various factors that can play into why you are experiencing red, bloodshot eyes. Learn what you can do to relieve the symptoms and prevent them from returning.

The term “red eye” is a non-specific term that describes the appearance of the eye. Red eye could be due to an illness, injury, eye infections, or other condition such as allergies. Doctors don’t tend to take immediate action when a patient comes in with red eyes. It’s a very common condition and usually relates to something else such as tiredness, substance abuse, allergies, cold/flu or trauma. Red eyes can also be called or referred to as “bloodshot eyes”, “pink eye” and “allergy eyes”.

What Causes Red Eyes?

Red eyes are caused by the enlarged and dilated blood vessels in the surface of the eye (conjunctiva) becoming irritated. This could be a medical emergency or a non-emergency. One of the most common cause of red eyes are allergens and environmental irritants such as pet dander, pollen, dust, blowing wind, dry air and sun exposure. People who lack sleep will also experience red eyes. Eye infections and inflammations can cause red eyes, as well as other symptoms such as itching, discharge, pain and vision problems like blurred vision. If a contact lens wearer doesn’t keep their lenses clean and disinfected, or wears them for too long, they can experience red eyes. If your eyes are dry you will also experience redness.

Other times red eyes can be of concern and a red flag that there is a more serious problem lurking such as Blepharitis, Conjunctivitis, Corneal Ulcers or Acute Glaucoma. If you’re experiencing other symptoms such as discharge or pain associated with the redness, you might want to schedule an appointment with your eye care professional or primary care doctor to see if one of these conditions is present.

Solutions & Treatment for Red Eyes

If you’re experiencing bloodshot eyes due to allergies or environmental irritants, you can try using oral antihistamines or over the counter eye drops like Visine before seeking further medical attention. This solution often clears up red eyes after a short amount of time. Dry eyes usually result in red eyes, and artificial tears sold at any local store could be an easy fix to the problem. Rubbing your eyes will only make the situation worse and can bring on separate symptoms. Avoid touching your eyes all together, even if you’ve washed your hands thoroughly. Oils and debris can stick to your fingers, or get under your fingernails and cause more redness, even scratch your eyeball. If the environment is bothering your eyes, change your location. Stay away from pets and pollens if possible. You could also try using an ice pack over your eyes. The coolness of the pack relieves different symptoms like swelling and pain, and could alleviate the redness. You could also consider rinsing your eyes with warm and cool water. This can work as an “irrigation” type system that will cleanse your eyes without harming them. There are also eye washing solutions that can be used to rinse out your eyes. They have a mild formula that will not hurt your eyes any further, or cause anymore redness.

If you still feel like your red eyes are caused by a more serious condition or if the red eyes will not go away, call your doctor and make an appointment. This would also be a great time to check for other conditions like Blepharitis and Conjunctivitis. Your doctor will also be able to prescribed you with medicated eye drops, oral antihistamines, oral decongestants and pain relievers if necessary.

You can also make lifestyle changes to help eliminate red eyes. Getting plenty of sleep and eating a healthy diet keeps your eyes and other important organs healthy and resistant to infections. If you smoke, or hang out in a smoky environment, stop. Smoke is a major irritant to the eyes. Try drinking more water and taking vitamins such as Vitamin A and E Supplements. Fatty acids found in fish, nuts, and leafy vegetables can be very beneficial to dry, red eyes.

References:
  • J. Weizer, MD; J. Stein, MD, MS “Reader’s Digest Guide to Eye Care” (Quantum Publishing, 2009) 51-56; 155-156
  • J. DiGirolamo, MD “The Big Book of Family Eye Care” (Basic Health Publications, 2011) 229-234
  • MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, Eye Redness, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003031.htm
This article was last updated on 07/2013