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Why Are My Eyes Red? – Causes Of Eye Redness

Eye redness might be one of the most common ophthalmological complaints. It is often caused by irritation or conjunctivitis, but in some cases, eye redness can be a sign of a more serious problem.

Sometimes eye redness is caused by abrasion or a foreign body, other times by a chemical trauma, and then there are also the infections and inflammations.

The duration of the redness, presence of pain, loss or blurry vision, and visible signs of irritation and inflammation all can help an ophtamological specialist determine the cause of the redness and further treatment.

Why Are My Eyes Red, Harold P. Freeman, red eye
Image Source: Harold P. Freeman

In the following paragraphs we’ll take a look at the most common causes of eye redness, so if you do recognize some of the symptoms, make sure to talk to your doctor. We do NOT recommend you taking care of the problem on your own; you might just worsen the situation.

Eye Redness – Explained

The Anatomy Of the Eye

  • Anterior chamber – the fluid-filled space between the iris and the inner surface of the cornea.
  • Aqueous humor – a transparent fluid that fills the anterior chamber of the eye.
  • Choroid – a vascular layer that provides oxygen and nutrition to the retina.
  • Conjunctiva – a thin, clear vascular layer of tissue that covers the inside of the eyelids. Inflammation of this layer is known as conjunctivitis.
  • Cornea – the transparent, convex layer of the eye at the front of the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber. It provides a mechanical barrier and provides the focusing power of the eye.
  • Iris – a thin, colored, circular structure that controls the size of the pupil and the amount of light that will reach the retina.
  • Lens – a structure behind the iris that helps refract light to accurately focus on the retina.
  • Sclera – the protective outer layer of the eye, or the white of the eye, that covers everything except the cornea.
Why Are My Eyes Red, Harold P. Freeman, eye anatomy
Image Source: Harold P. Freeman

Eye Redness Diagnosis

Eye redness can be caused by some common eye conditions and external factors, or it can be a sign of a serious condition that could result in permanent eye loss.

Because the determination of the redness causes can be difficult, the general practice lies in a detailed examination of a case relying on factors like pain, photophobia, reduced visual activity, presentation of eye redness, etc.

So, to determine the cause and the treatment of the redness, the doctor will inquire about the following information;

  • Duration, nature, and the onset of symptoms
  • Where does the pain occur; on one or both eyes
  • Possible exposure to chemicals or other irritants
  • Exposure to a foreign body or trauma
  • Presence of photophobia
  • Changes to the vision and visual disturbances
  • Discharge of the eye
  • Past ocular history; previous herpetic eye disease, eye surgery, contact lens use, and hygiene practices

Eye Redness Symptoms And Red Flags

In the case one experiences any of the following eye redness symptoms, it is essential to seek urgent and immediate ophthalmological assessment;

  • Eye redness alongside severe eye pain
  • Severe photophobia
  • Marked redness of only one eye
  • Reduced visual activity
  • Worsening redness and pain occurring within one to two weeks after eye surgery
  • Irritant conjunctivitis caused by an acid or alkali burn
  • Irritant conjunctivitis caused by a highly irritating substance, like cement powder
  • Purulent conjunctivitis in a newborn infant (irritation, redness, tearing, and purulent discharge)

Common Causes of Eye Redness


In cases of common irritants, the vessels of the eye become inflamed, which results in eye redness, subconjunctival hemorrhage, or blood blotches in one or both eyes. The irritants include;

  • Dry air (dry, burning feeling in the eye, and a stringy discharge)
  • Exposure to the sunlight
  • Exposure to bright light in general
  • Dust and pollen
  • Allergic reactions (itching, burning, and tearing)
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Frequent sneezing
  • Colds and nasal stuffiness


In cases of infections or inflammation, the problem occurs in different areas of the eye, which can be a more serious issue to deal with.

Alongside eye redness, there can also be a discharge from the eye, pain, and disturbances in vision (extreme photosensitivity, blurry or dual vision, etc.).

Here are some of the common causes of inflammation and infections, which are often very serious and when untreated, can lead to vision loss;

  • Blepharitis – inflammation of the follicles of the eyelashes. It usually affects both eyes and occurs when small oil glands near the base of eyelashes become clogged. This causes irritation, redness, and the eyelids may appear swollen as well.
Why Are My Eyes Red, Harold P. Freeman, Blepharitis
Image Source: Harold P. Freeman
  • Conjunctivitis or pink eye – inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the tissue that covers the inside of the eyelids and the white part of the eyeball.
    The inflammation is caused by a bacteria or virus (for example, in case when you use old eye makeup or someone else’s eye makeup). The inflammation manifests are eye redness, itchiness, burning, and grittiness.
    The blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed as well, appearing reddish or pinkish in the white part of the eyeball.
  • Corneal ulcers – inflammation or open sore of the cornea. It results from eye inflammation, severe eye dryness, and certain eye disorders. It can also result from physical or chemical trauma to the eye, or eye injury. Corneal ulcer is also known as keratitis.
  • Uveitis – inflammation of the uvea, or the middle layer of the eye. It can affect one or both eyes and can lead to vision loss. The inflammation produces swelling and destroys eye tissue. It is a rare condition and requires immediate medical attention.
  • Iritis – inflammation of the iris that can be associated with other inflammatory diseases, like spondylitis. It can also occur as an isolated inflammation. The complications of the inflammation can cause glaucoma, cataract, and macular edema. Iritis is also known as anterior uveitis.
  • Scleritis – inflammation of the sclera. This is a rare condition, and often appears or is associated with autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis.

Other Eye Redness Causes

  • Direct trauma or injury to the eye
  • Acute glaucoma, or painful increase in the eye pressure
  • Contact lenses causing scratches to the cornea
  • Eyelid styes (painful, red bump on the surface of the eye)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or immune diseases
  • Bleeding issues and issues with blood clotting
  • Marijuana use

How Can One Manage Eye Redness?

Here are some tips and professional recommendations on how can one manage eye redness in certain eye conditions or cases.

We do NOT claim these recommendations are suitable for every case.

You should not use anything mentioned or recommend without consulting your doctor or specialist first.

Dry-Eye Syndrome

Dry-eye syndrome can be treated using proper eyelid hygiene and artificial tears.

Furthermore, one needs to limit the use of contact lenses, avoid smoking, and take frequent breaks from concentrating on the screen. If not treated, the dry-eye syndrome can evolve into conjunctivitis or keratitis.

Note: Eyelid hygiene comprises applying a warm compress to the eyelids, massaging the eyelid in a circular motion, and cleaning the eyelid with a wet cotton bud or cloth (the solution used should contain 1 part baby shampoo and 10 parts water, for cleansing).

Bacterial Or Viral Conjunctivitis

In the case of viral conjunctivitis, there is no effective virucidal treatment. However, the doctors advise the patient should clean away secretions from the eyelid and lashes using a soaked cotton bud.

Moreover, the patients need to wash their hands frequently, especially before and after touching the eye and cleaning the secretions. The patient also needs to get their own towel, avoid sharing pillows, and avoid using contact lenses.

If necessary, one can use artificial tear eye drops to reduce discomfort. Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis should go away in one to three weeks.

In the case of bacterial conjunctivitis, the issue is the same; there is no proper treatment. The patient should follow the same recommendations as for viral conjunctivitis.

Moreover, patients are further advised to avoid the use of eye makeup as it can be old and contaminated. In the majority of cases, contaminated makeup or eye makeup tools are the cause of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis

Allergic Conjunctivitis

The treatment and management of allergic conjunctivitis comprise firstly avoiding allergens when possible. Furthermore, one should avoid rubbing the eyes, and to relieve the symptoms, use a cool or warm compress instead.

If the symptoms persist or become worse, the doctor will probably prescribe antihistamine eye drops or oral antihistamines, depending on the patient and their response to the treatment.

Why Are My Eyes Red, Harold P. Freeman, conjunctivitis
Image Source: Harold P. Freeman

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

The subconjunctival hemorrhage often occurs from eyestrain, frequent coughing, or sneezing. It often resolves on its own in one to two weeks, if not a few days.

However, in order to relieve discomfort, doctors advise one uses artificial tear eye drops. Sometimes, the doctor would advise checking the blood pressure, just to be sure and safe nothing else is going on.


In the case of blepharitis, the patients are advised to apply a warm compress on closed eyelids at least twice a week, for 5 minutes approximately.

The eyelid margin should also be gently massaged and cleaned with a wet cloth or cotton bud. Both should be dipped in a solution of 1 part baby shampoo and 10 parts water for cleansing.

If the symptoms of blepharitis don’t relieve or become worse, the doctor will probably prescribe topical antibiotics, eye gel, or eye drops.

How Can You Prevent Eye Redness?

Eye redness can be prevented in several ways, which often comprise proper hygiene, facial cleaning, contact lens hygiene, proper nutrition, and water intake. Here are some other tips you should follow to prevent eye irritation, inflammation, and worsening of the redness;

  • Before touching or cleaning the eyes, you should wash your hands thoroughly. This especially applies in the current situation of coronavirus, since dirty hands can play a major role in virus transmission and self-contamination by touching the eyes.
  • Every day, especially before bedtime, you should remove all the makeup from the eyes, gently but thoroughly. Any makeup that is left behind can cause irritation, inflammation, and eyelash clogging. Makeup alone can cause viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • Make sure not to sleep wearing your contact lenses. This can be especially dangerous and result in serious eye infections, bacterial and fungal keratitis, blurred vision, redness, and excessive watering.
    Moreover, do not forget to clean your contacts using contact lens solution before wearing them. Do not put or remove your contacts before washing your hands.
  • Try to avoid activities and substances that can cause eyestrain, eye redness, and eye irritation; from staring at the screen for hours to using marijuana and swimming with contacts on.

Final Thoughts

If you experience eye redness, which doesn’t go away for a few days or a week, make sure to see a doctor or a specialist. Chances are you need a professional evaluation and a possible treatment.

By visiting your doctor you will also avoid worsening of the symptoms, and the symptoms evolving into a serious eye condition.

Make sure to use the information in the article with a reserve, since not every recommendation applies to every case or condition.

This text is only informational and written to help you learn more about eye redness so that you can lead a better conversation with your doctor.

Also Read: Best Eye Supplements: Our Top 4 Picks

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