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A Simple Approach to Cure Red Eyes

Written by
Dr. Manjunath Natarajan
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Jun 11, 2018 and last reviewed on Sep 07, 2018   -  3 min read


Red eyes are a very common problem seen in the ophthalmology department. The causes of this common symptom are several and management protocols vary depending on the doctor. This article has been written to help shed light on the most serious as well as the most commonly seen causes of red eye with a list of over-the-counter medications which may help you find a cure.

A Simple Approach to Cure Red Eyes

Red eyes are a very common problem seen in ophthalmology day in and out. The causes of this common symptom are several. The management of red eye always presents a challenge to even the most experienced ophthalmologist due to the sheer number of causes and associated overlapping causative factors.

The most important symptoms to watch for are:

Given below are a few common causes of red eyes listed as per the "Sticky-Itchy-Dry" algorithm:

1. Viral conjunctivitis

This condition is more aptly called epidemic conjunctivitis, caused by strains of adenovirus. The condition is highly contagious and spreads from one person to another by contact with tears or nasal discharge of the patient. The common belief that it spreads by looking into a patient's eye is a myth. The infection in severe cases may cause ulcers on the cornea and can lead to corneal scarring which can decrease your visual acuity.

The main symptom is 'sticky eyelids on waking up from sleep'.

There are no treatments which are available to target the viruses and the current guidelines prohibit the use of antiviral ointments for treatment of conjunctivitis. This is a severe handicap to the ophthalmologist who has to haplessly wait for the patient's own immunity to save him, unable to start antivirals until the cornea has ulcerated.

The treatments usually prescribed are:

a) Lubricant eyedrops (over the counter) - Carboxymethylcellulose acetate 0.5 and 1 %, Carmellose 0.5 %, Hypromellose 0.5 %, Polyethylene glycol and Propylene glycol.

b) Antibiotics - Moxifloxacin eyedrops 0.5 % and Tobramycin eyedrops 0.3 %, antibiotics are also available in the ointment form for longer action.

2. Allergic conjunctivitis

It is a very common cause of red eyes, mostly in young children aged less than 10 years. A multitude of allergens (dust mite, pollen, temperature change, food items) can be the causative factors.

The main symptom is 'itching'.

The treatment principle in all the cases is to suppress the body's immune reaction in the allergy. These allergic responses are usually present throughout life, being most potent during childhood and will wane in intensity as children near adolescence, but will not stop completely.

A few of the commonly prescribed treatment modalities are:

a) Antihistamines and decongestants - Olopatadine 0.1 %/0.2 %, Naphazoline, Epinastine, Chlorpheniramine maleate.

b) Lubricant eyedrops - lubricant eyedrops (over the counter) - Carboxymethylcellulose acetate 0.5 and 1 %, Carmellose 0.5 %, Hypromellose 0.5 %, Polyethylene glycol and Propylene glycol.

c) Steroids - Loteprednol 0.5 %, Difluprednate, Dexamethasone, Prednisolone.

d) Immune modulators - Cyclosporine.

e) NSAIDS - Flurbiprofen, Nepafenac, Bromfenac.

3. Dry eyes

This is the ubiquitous red eye seen in IT and accounting professionals.

Most common symptoms include 'dryness or a burning sensation'.

Treatment options:

a) Lubricant eyedrops (over the counter) - Carboxymethylcellulose acetate 0.5 and 1 %, Carmellose 0.5 %, Hypromellose 0.5 %, Polyethylene glycol and Propylene glycol.

b) Blinking more frequently.

4. Acute congestive glaucoma

This is a serious buildup of pressure inside the eye which can permanently impair vision within a few hours. The disease is classified as an ophthalmic emergency and needs specialist ophthalmologist consultation.

This condition is seen in females, dark-skinned races, people having a family history of glaucoma, and hypertensives. The major risk factor is age and 2 % of all the world's population over 40 are at risk.

The symptoms are 'overwhelming pain', vomiting, headache, blurred or foggy vision, seeing colored rings around the light. Once such symptoms start, it is very important to rush the patient to the emergency department.

Treatment of this disorder is by medication and laser.

5. Acute anterior uveitis

This is also a very painful disorder although not as sudden and dramatic as acute congestive glaucoma. This condition is seen in young and middle-aged individuals. The disorder is nothing but an auto-destruction of our body by our own immune system. The reaction can be severe in young individuals and can lead to the destruction of the internal structures of the eye and permanent blindness.

The condition presents with 'severe pain and redness', some patients may have recurrent attacks of this disorder over their lifetime. These patients need ophthalmologist consultation.

The treatment involves immunosuppressants and recurrent cases will need blood tests also.

6. Subconjunctival and periorbital hemorrhage

These are blood clots around the eyeball. Subconjunctival hemorrhage is a benign condition and will disappear if left on its own. The problem is that, to the untrained eye, it looks similar to periorbital hemorrhage, which is a vision-threatening disorder.

Hence, even these two disorders are best sorted out by seeing the doctor. As an immediate measure, ice cubes may be applied over the closed eyelids. Doing this helps the blood clot dissolve faster.

Take Home Points

The causes of red eye are numerous, each with its own characteristic symptoms "Sticky-Itchy-Dry".

You must see a doctor in case you are not able to see clearly, have severe pain or have symptoms which are getting worse.

For more information consult a dry eye specialist online -->


Frequently Asked Questions


How Can I Get Rid of My Red Eyes?

If you are affected by red eyes, you can use the following methods to get rid of it.
- Usage of cold compresses.
- Soaking a cloth in ice water and gently massaging it with closed eyes.
- Try warm compresses also.
- Stay away from irritants that trigger your red-eyes such as smoke, pet hair, dust, chlorine, or pollen.


What Are the Causes of Red Eyes?

The following are the various causes of red eyes:
- Allergy.
- Eye fatigue.
- Over-wearing of contact lenses.
- Common eye infections, such as conjunctivitis.
- Underlying serious eye conditions or systemic diseases, such as uveitis or glaucoma.


What Diseases Can Lead To Red Eyes?

The following are a list of severe eye conditions that can lead to the incidence of red eyes:
- Eye infections.
- Eye trauma or injury.
- Recent eye surgery.
- Uveitis.
- Acute glaucoma.
- Corneal ulcer.


When Should I Consult a Doctor for Red Eye?

Seek emergency medical care when your red eye is accompanied by other symptoms such as the sudden onset of vision changes, severe headache, eye pain, fever, or abnormal sensitivity to light, nausea, or vomiting. This is because all these symptoms could be due to severe underlying conditions that could be fatal if the treatment is delayed or left untreated.


What Can Help to Relieve Red Eyes Naturally?

The following are the list of various methods that can be used to treat red eyes naturally:
- Rinsing the affected eyes gently with cold and clean water.
- A warm compress over the eyelids to help in relieving bloodshot eyes.
- Cold compress.
- Rosewater.
- Tea bags compress.
- Aloe Vera.
- Cucumber.
- Blink more than normal.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes.


Can the Overuse of Phones Cause Red Eyes?

Yes, the overuse of phones can lead to the development of red eyes. When a person is staring at a smartphone or tablet for a longer period of time, it can cause tired, itchy, dry eyes. It can even lead to blurred vision and headaches.


Is Red Eye a Serious Condition?

The redness of the eye is also known as bloodshot eyes. This condition can indicate the presence of several different health problems ranging from dangerous to mild in severity. When some of these problems are benign, they do not require immediate medical treatment and can be treated with home remedies, but serious conditions require emergency medical attention. This is because it could be due to serious life-threatening conditions.


How Long Can Red Eye Last?

When red eyes are due to benign conditions, it generally lasts only for two weeks. Conditions such as allergic conjunctivitis are usually noted to benefit from cool compresses and the application of cool artificial tears. You should also use cool allergy eye drops. But when your red-eye does not resolve within two weeks, consult your doctor immediately to avoid unnecessary complications.


Can Stress Lead to Red Eyes?

Yes, stress can lead to red eyes. Both the physical stresses of a person’s eye and mental stress can cause this condition directly and indirectly because stress can lead to a lack of sleep, making the eyes tired and causing red eyes in the long term.


Does Sleep Deprivation Cause Red Eyes?

Yes, sleep deprivation can lead to the development of red eyes. Lack of sleep can cause dry, itchy, and bloodshot eyes. Dry eyes can be very painful and may cause irritation, but this can also suggest that a person’s eyes are not provided with the adequate quantity of lubrication needed by them in order to stay healthy. A sleep-deprived person might also note that his or her eyes are sensitive to light and blurring of vision.


Does Hypertension Cause Red Eyes?

Yes, a rise in blood pressure can cause red eyes because high blood pressure can lead to blood vessels’ damage that supplies blood to the retina, which is the light-sensitive region of the human eye. This condition Is known as hypertensive retinopathy. It is always important not to avoid chronic red eyes.


Does Consumption of Water Help Red Eyes?

Yes, drinking water can help in treating red eyes. Dehydration can cause red eyes. If so, drinking plenty of water will help in flushing out salt in the body and properly hydrating the affected person’s eyes to help reduce eye strain.


Does the Application of Eye Drop Help With Red Eyes?

Yes, the application of eye drops can help with red eyes. It is good to treat minor irritation, exhaustion, or occasional redness with eye drops as a measure of temporary eye relief only. But it is important for people to note that anti-redness drops will not treat underlying health conditions that are causing red eyes in them. So, it is always important to provide proper medical attention to red eyes.


Can Dehydration Lead to Red Eyes?

Yes, dehydration can lead to the occurrence of red eyes. When the person is dehydrated for a long time, he or she might experience a dry mouth, severe thirst, and dry skin and over time, it can even lead to higher blood pressure. Thus, red-eye is a symptom of dehydration and can lead to other conditions such as eye pain, vision distortion, dry eyes, etc.


Why Do Eyes Get Red After Sleeping?

Our eyes may reduce the production of tears while sleeping. This is the reason why our eyes get red after sleeping. The primary function of tears is lubrication. This is the major cause of dryness and redness of the eyes upon waking. These symptoms can be more pronounced in people with dry eye syndrome.


Can Tiredness Lead to Red Eyes?

Yes, usually the first and foremost indication of a "bloodshot" eye is tiredness. While extreme tiredness can make the blood vessels in the eyes increase in size. This change in the eyes’ standard structure and function can make them more exposed to many potential hazards that can lead to inflammation.


What Are the Various Home Remedies for Red Eyes?

The following are the various home remedies for red eyes:
- Regular placement of a cool compress over the eyes.
- Avoidance of eye makeup, or choosing hypoallergenic eye make up as an alternative.
- Usage of artificial tears, which are available in online shopping sites or over-the-counter or local pharmacies.

Last reviewed at:
07 Sep 2018  -  3 min read




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