Examples of these causes can be:⁴,⁵,⁶
- Dry, climate-conditioned air
- Lack of sleep
- Swimming pool chlorine
- Cosmetic products
- Long periods of screen work
- Alcohol consumption
- Using contact lenses
- Inflammation or injury of the eye
Heavy sneezing and coughing or frequently rubbing your eyes can also be a trigger. If the redness does not disappear after two weeks, and you have other symptoms such as intense itching, dizziness or burning, you should consult an optometrist.⁷
Whether you should treat red eyes depends on the cause and the degree of redness. For redness caused by too little sleep, working in front of the screen, or the influence of alcohol, recovery and rest is usually enough. Eye drops, eye sprays or ointments that have a calming effect on your eye can also be used as a tear substitute.
Red eyes that need treatment are those that have been triggered by inflammation, or an allergy or infection. In this case, you should use eye drops with an antihistamine effect or low-dose cortisone eye drops and see an optometrist.
However, do not take matters into your own hands. Visit an optometrist and let them determine which type of eye drop is most suitable for your situation.
Is an allergy causing red eyes?
People with any type of allergy are prone to red eyes. Some are allergic to furry pets, dust, or air conditioning, and others cannot tolerate the air pollutants, strong scents, or smoke.⁸
Are dry eyes causing red eyes?
If the eye is unable to make enough tears, or if the tears evaporate too quickly, you can get dry eyes. This condition can cause pain in your eye, an ulcer on the cornea, and in some exceptional cases, vision deterioration.⁹,¹⁰
Is conjunctivitis causing red eyes?
When the conjunctiva is infected by swelling and irritation, we call it conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. This infection distresses the blood vessels in the eye, causing them to swell up. This burning or inflammatory condition of the eye transforms the sclera (the white area of the eye) from white to red.
Many conjunctivitis infections occur due to viruses and are usually contagious. The infection can be associated with an upper respiratory infection and can be transferred by coughing. It can also be transferred via contaminated fingers, or by sharing personal items.
Be aware of the following symptoms of conjunctivitis, and consult an optometrist when necessary:
- Itchy and red eyes
- Excessive tear production
- Stringy discharge from the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Abnormal changes in your vision
Infections like conjunctivitis are contagious. Only use your own towels, toiletries, and personal care products, and wash your hands thoroughly before and after using ointments and drops.¹¹
Are corneal ulcers causing red eyes?
Bacterial infection and mishandling of contact lenses are the most common reasons for a corneal ulcer. This is an eye condition that occurs due to an open sore on the cornea, causing a sore red eye. This condition should not be ignored, as it can cause loss of vision, and in some cases, even the loss of an eye. Prompt treatment is recommended.
The symptoms may include:
- Redness in eyes
- Sore eyes
- Light sensitivity
- A white spot on the cornea¹²
Apart from these eye disorders, red eyes can also be a consequence of exposure to the sun, dust particles in the eye, swimming in public pools, and environmental pollutants.
Red eye treatment
Minor outbreaks of red eyes can be treated with natural remedies, such as:¹⁵,¹⁶
- Rinsing the eyes thoroughly with sterile water.
- A cold compress can help soothing the eye and reduce redness. Use a clean cotton pad, dip it into cold water, and place it over your eyes.
- Either avoid using eye makeup when you have red eye, or instead use hypo-allergic makeup to keep the eye free from any distressing substance.
Our eyes carry some natural cleansers in the form of tears. They are also soothing, antibacterial and entirely natural.
Eye drops or washes
In other situations, using eye drops might be the solution to treat a red eye.
Drops (also known as artificial tears) can be useful especially if the red eye is caused by dryness.¹⁷
If you have watery or itchy eyes alongside the redness, it is probably due to an unidentified allergy. Antihistamine drops can be used if your eyes become red due to weather changes or seasonal allergies. It is recommended to consult an optometrist if the redness persists for more than two days.
Medically reviewed by Jasmyn Cox on September 29, 2022