Most of us have experienced bloodshot or red eyes. They can look unpleasant, with pink or red streaks in the parts of your eyes that are usually white. Bloodshot eyes can also be uncomfortable—with itchiness, tearing, and burning all common symptoms.
What Causes Red or Bloodshot Eyes?
Various irritants can cause vessels on the eye to become inflamed, including:
- dry air
- exposure to the sun
- allergic reactions
- bacterial or viral infections, such as measles
- chlorine from swimming pools
- cigarette smoke
Many cases of red eye are harmless and respond well to home or over-the-counter treatments. The best thing you can do is determine what allergen is causing the red eye, and avoid it. But some causes of red eye require medical diagnosis and prescription medication. So, if your eye is red or bloodshot, what can you do at home, and when should you schedule an appointment?
When Should You See a Doctor About Bloodshot Eyes?
You should see a doctor if your eyes are red and:
- seeping or encrusted with yellow, brown or green mucous. This can be a sign of infection that needs urgent medical treatment.
- you are experiencing pain in or around your eyes or unusual tenderness.
- you have unusual sensitivity to light.
- you have a fever or overall sickness.
- you experience changes in your vision.
- redness or discomfort lasts more than a week, after you’re tried home remedies.
- your child has been exposed to pink eye (conjunctivitis) at school or at camp.
- you take medications that thin your blood, such as heparin or warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven).
If you have bloodshot eyes, but none of these more serious symptoms, you can try a few things at home to help.
Home Remedies for Red or Bloodshot Eyes
Home remedies that may help treat your red eyes include:
- Using over-the-counter artificial tears. These drops relieve irritation and wash allergens from the eye. Use these up to four times per day. If you use artificial tears more often, you should get preservative-free artificial tears.
- Using over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops, especially if you are prone to seasonal allergies. These drops help relieve itchiness.
- Decongestants. These eye drops reduce the redness in your eyes. Avoid using these drops for more than three days. Long-term use can make redness worse (called “rebound redness”).
- Placing cool compresses or washcloths on your closed eyes a couple of times a day.
Eye Infections to Look Out For
If home remedies don’t help after about a week, you could have an eye infection. Two main kinds of infection cause bloodshot eyes — viral and bacterial. There are also fungal eye infections, which are less common. Pink eye (conjunctivitis) can be viral or bacterial. It’s important to get a diagnosis from a doctor, because treatments differ based on the kind of infection. Viral eye infections, the most common kind, tend to improve on their own, and don’t require prescription medication. Bacterial eye infections require antibiotics. Both types of infection are contagious and spread easily.
How to Prevent Eye Redness
- Avoiding triggers or irritants such as smoke, fumes, pollen, dust, chlorine, or pet dander. If you don’t know what’s irritating your eye, see an allergist. They can test you to find out what you are allergic to.
- Dehumidify. If mold causes your red eyes, clean the mold in your home and consider a dehumidifier to absorb excess moisture.
- Washing your hands often, not touching your eyes unless you’ve just washed your hands, and using clean bedding and towels daily.
- Remove all makeup from your eyes each day.
- Don’t wear contact lenses longer than recommended.
- Clean your contact lenses regularly.
- Avoid activities that can cause eyestrain.
- Avoid substances that can cause your eyes to become irritated.
- If your eye becomes contaminated, flush it out immediately with eyewash or water if eyewash isn’t available.