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What can I do About Red Eyes?

By Debora Ruth Hoffman
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Before you run for the Visine for those red eyes, here are some things to consider about treating this common condition. Red eyes are most commonly caused by tiredness and/or dryness and can be easily treated with rest, cool, wet compresses and artificial tears. A cool compress can be made by running a clean washcloth under cold water. If you wear contact lenses, the redness can be caused by wearing your lenses too long. Contact lenses should never be worn while sleeping, as this can lead to eye infections.

Red eyes occur when the conjunctiva, or the clear covering of the eye, gets red or inflamed, hence the name conjunctivitis. The irritation causes the blood vessels to dilate, causing red eyes. Over the counter eye drops contain vasoconstrictors, which constricts those blood vessels, thus reducing redness. This will work at first, but with more use, it will stop working, so it's a good idea to stick to the cool compresses.

If eyes are red and itchy, think about a possible allergic reaction. Cool compresses come in handy for this condition as well, but can only bring temporary relief. For long term results, it’s a good idea to avoid the allergen altogether. For excessive redness and itching, have your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist who can prescribe a topical antihistamine.

A less common cause of red eyes is viral conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. This highly contagious ailment is usually accompanied by cold symptoms such as runny nose and sore throat-- it's basically a cold in your eye. Just like for a cold, comfort measures are key. Use cool compresses, drink extra fluids, and get extra rest to help ease the symptoms. Artificial tears can also be used to soothe this condition.

Avoid spreading the virus by commonsense methods such as frequent hand washing and separate towels. And, like a cold, viral conjunctivitis will run its course and be over in a week to ten days. Antibiotics are often prescribed, but have no benefit for treating viral conjunctivitis. In some cases, viral conjunctivitis can progress and cause other problems. If vision is affected or there is great discomfort in addition to the redness, a visit to the ophthalmologist is in order.

Occasionally, red eyes are caused by bacterial conjunctivitis. In addition to redness, the eyes are irritated and producing a greenish yellow goopy discharge. When this occurs, antibiotics are required.

There are other causes of eye redness that can be associated with more serious medical conditions. If, despite the comfort care, redness persists or any time vision is ever affected, be sure to see an ophthalmologist for an eye exam.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Jun 21, 2014

If your eyes get red and start itching intensely and suddenly, you've probably got pink eye, and it's time to see the eye doctor. I've had it a couple of times and my optometrist prescribed eye drops that have both an antibiotic and a steroid in them for redness and the itching. It feels *so* good when they hit that irritation! Nothing much else helps except the antibiotic drops.

I've also used a cool, damp cloth on my eyes to help the itching and pain of pink eyes, but the drops are the best remedy.

By Pippinwhite — On Jun 20, 2014

I got hold of some homeopathic "pink eye remedy" at my local drugstore and it really helped my red eyes. Eye fatigue from sitting at the computer too long can also cause red eyes, and the best remedy for that is just to push away from the computer for a while.

Allergies, of course, can also cause red eyes, so an antihistamine will sometimes help. I've also seen eye drops especially for allergies, so those might work well, too.

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