This article sheds light on the most serious and most commonly seen causes of red eyes with a list of over-the-counter medications that may help you find a cure.
Red eyes, which is a condition that can occur in one or both eyes, is the cardinal sign of ocular inflammation. They are a prevalent problem seen in ophthalmology day in and out. The causes of this common symptom are several, and management protocols vary depending on the doctor. The management of red eye always presents a challenge to even the most experienced ophthalmologist due to the sheer number of reasons and associated overlapping causative factors.
The most important symptoms to watch for are:
Blurred vision or a reduction in your vision.
Diffuse whitening or a white spot on your cornea, the black circular part of your eye.
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. Viral conjunctivitis 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 may cause ulcers on the cornea in severe cases and lead to corneal scarring, decreasing your visual acuity.
The main symptom is 'sticky eyelids on waking up from sleep.'
There are no treatments available to target the viruses, and the current guidelines prohibit the use of antiviral ointments for the treatment of conjunctivitis. This is a severe handicap to the ophthalmologist who has to haplessly wait for the patient's own immunity to save them, unable to start antivirals until the cornea has ulcerated.
The treatments usually prescribed are:
Lubricant Eye Drops (over-the-counter) - Carboxymethylcellulose acetate 0.5 and 1 %, Carmellose 0.5 %, Hypromellose 0.5 %, Polyethylene glycol, and Propylene glycol.
Antibiotics - Moxifloxacin eye drops 0.5 %, and Tobramycin eye drops 0.3 %, antibiotics are also available in the ointment form for longer action.
2. Allergic Conjunctivitis:
It is a widespread cause of red eyes, mostly in young children aged less than ten years. Many allergens (dust mite, pollen, temperature change, and food items) can be the causative factors.
The main symptom is 'itching.'
The treatment principle in all 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 for allergic conjunctivitis are:
Antihistamines and Decongestants - Olopatadine 0.1 %/0.2 %, Naphazoline, Epinastine, and Chlorpheniramine maleate.
Lubricant Eye Drops - Lubricant eye drops (over-the-counter) - Carboxymethylcellulose acetate 0.5 and 1 %, Carmellose 0.5 %, Hypromellose 0.5 %, Polyethylene glycol and Propylene glycol.
Steroids - Loteprednol 0.5 %, Difluprednate, Dexamethasone, and Prednisolone.
Immune Modulators - Cyclosporine.
NSAIDS - Flurbiprofen, Nepafenac, and Bromfenac.
3. Dry Eyes:
This is the ubiquitous red eye seen in IT (information technology) and accounting professionals.
Most common symptoms include 'dryness or a burning sensation.'
Lubricant Eye Drops (over the counter) - Carboxymethylcellulose acetate 0.5 and 1 %, Carmellose 0.5 %, Hypromellose 0.5 %, Polyethylene glycol and Propylene glycol.
Blinking more frequently.
4. Acute Congestive Glaucoma:
This is a severe 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, and 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 usually 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 destroy the eye's internal structures and cause permanent blindness.
The condition presents with 'severe pain and redness, and 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. A 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 consulting the doctor. As an immediate measure, ice cubes may be applied over the closed eyelids. Doing this helps the blood clot dissolve faster.
Some precautionary measures can prevent the condition from getting worse if you are having red eyes and irritation.
Do not touch or rub your eyes.
Do not strain your eyes.
Do not spend more time in front of the computer or mobile screen.
Applying an ice pack on the eyes can help reduce redness and give relief from symptoms like swelling and pain.
Rinse your eyes with cool water, which helps cleanse your eyes without harming them.
Enough sleep and eating a healthy diet can help keep your eyes and other organs healthy and prevent infection.
If you feel that your red eyes are due to a serious condition or if they are persistent, consult your doctor and make an appointment. They may examine your eyes and prescribe medication that may relieve your symptoms.
The causes of a red eye are numerous, each with its own characteristic symptoms "Sticky-Itchy-Dry." You must consult a doctor if you cannot see, have severe pain, or have symptoms that are getting worse.
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.
The following are the various causes of red eyes:
- 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.
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.
- Acute glaucoma.
- Corneal ulcer.
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.
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.
- Tea bags compress.
- Aloe Vera.
- Blink more than normal.
- Avoid rubbing your 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
10 Mar 2022 - 5 min read
Query: Hi doctor, I have had persistent, recurrent headaches and shooting head pains due to a concussion from a traumatic brain injury, that I acquired five years back. The doctor has described my headaches as tension-type headaches, I have pain behind the eyes mainly, but it can be on the top of the head... Read Full »
Query: Hello doctor, My mother, who is aged 57, had eye pain recently. We consulted a doctor and got to know that my mother has glaucoma. Also, they mentioned that it is in the advanced stage and severe of around 90%. From another couple of tests, they found that my mother needs cataract surgery along with... Read Full »
Query: Hello doctor, I am 42 years old female going through dry eyes for the past 45 days. I have been to three different doctors but no relief. I feel heaviness in the eyes along with pain and redness. I have been given a gel and a tube (Systane eye drop and Ara gel). Please help. Read Full »
Most Popular Articles
Do you have a question on Glaucoma or Dry Eyes?Ask a Doctor Online