There are two main reasons that red eyes are not cool. For starters, they aren't particularly attractive and hardly evoke an image of someone who is healthy and awake. At the same time, they're also rather worrying. Your eyes are a sensitive and crucial part of your body, so if they're looking bright red you might start wondering if there's some kind of problem with them, or with your health in general.
There are many potential causes for bloodshot eyes and determining what is causing yours will help ascertain whether there is cause for concern and just how you can go about getting your whites back. Don't worry just yet, it's normally nothing – but it's definitely worth looking into all the same and it's always best to be safe rather than sorry when dealing with such a sensitive part of the body.
Cause 1 – Irritation
Many things can irritate the eyes and as with the rest of the body this can then lead to reddening. Common causes of irritation are hay fever, dust or dander. You can also get red eyes when peeling onions, or when rubbing your eyes hard. The best ways to address these problems are to use anti-allergy medications and to avoid the cause of irritation where possible. Avoid rubbing your eyes too much as this will only worsen the reddening.
Cause 2 – Subconjunctival Hemorrhage
A subconjunctival haemorrhage is a broken blood vessel on the sclera. In other words, it means that a tiny delicate vein in your eye has broken resulting in the release of blood. Don't worry – this is normally benign and self-limiting and shouldn't cause long term problems. This should clear up on its own over the course of a few days. Common triggers are eye traumas, increases in blood pressure, the use of blood thinners such as aspirin or in rare cases a vitamin K deficiency. If this is a common issue for you, then you might try using a vitamin K supplement, and potentially avoiding using aspirins. Eye drops won't help speed up the repair, but if you are experiencing any discomfort you might find that they can be soothing.
Cause 3 – Conjunctivitis
Also sometimes called 'pink eye', conjunctivitis is a common form of eye infection and is particularly prominent among school children. Here an infection of the conjunctiva (the transparent membrane over the sclera) causes the blood vessels to become irritated and swell up. There are different types of conjunctivitis which require different treatments, so if you suspect this is the cause of your troubles make sure you book an appointment with your doctor and follow their advice carefully.
Cause 4 – Other Infections
There are a number of other infections that can affect your eyes, including keratitis, ocular herpes (yep that exists!), and fungal eye infections. These will often go hand in hand with discomfort, light sensitivity, swelling and discharge from the eye, and you should be sure to see your doctor quickly if you notice any of these symptoms.
Cause 5 – Dry Eyes
If your eyes become dry this can cause the surfaces to become inflamed and irritated resulting in a reddened appearance. Normally this is prevented by the production of tears to lubricate, clean and nourish your eyes. In some cases though this can be hampered in the short or long term. If you've been out in blustery weather for a long time for instance then your eyes might have been dried that way and taking some rest inside will probably help you clear up the problem.
Your eyes can also dry out if you find yourself forgetting to blink for long periods of time. This can happen when we are concentrating intensely – for instance when using computers for long periods of time. You can avoid this problem by making sure to take regular breaks from looking at the screen (learning to touch-type can help too!).
On the other hand, chronically dry eyes can be caused when the tear glands stop producing as many tears as they should. This condition can be incurable, but it is manageable with artificial tears and 'punctal plugs'.
Cause 6 – Contact Lenses/Makeup
Red eyes can often be a problem for people who wear contact lenses. This is caused by a build-up of dust and dirt which gets into your eye when you re-insert contacts, but contacts on their own can also worsen the effects of dry eye. Make sure that you clean your contact lenses thoroughly, and if the problem persists then consider trying disposable contacts or gas permeable lenses which will let oxygen through to the eye.
Red eyes can also be caused by reactions to beauty products, so try to identify whether or not the redness seems to coincide with when you use particular mascaras or hair sprays etc.
There are a number of other causes of red eyes which include uveitis, corneal ulcers and glaucoma. Generally though these will also result in other more noticeable side-effects that tell you right away that you need to see someone.
Either way, if you have persistent and unusually red eyes and you can't narrow it down to dryness, allergies or other simple causes, then you should make sure to see your doctor as soon as possible.