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Redness Around The Eye Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated August 27, 2020

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Redness around the eyes can be caused by an inflamed eyelid, allergies, or a stye. Red rashes or dry skin around the eyes can be caused by eczema or dermatitis. Read now for more information on what causes red around the eyes and treatment options.

6 causes of redness around the eye

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Stye and chalazion

A stye (or hordeolum) is an infection in the upper or lower eyelid. There are three glands around the eye and one of them is infected.

You can treat this on your own with a topical antibiotic and warm compresses to help drain the infected area.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swelling of one eyelid, redness around the eye, feeling of something in the eye, eyelid lump, eyelid pain

Symptoms that always occur with stye and chalazion: swelling of one eyelid

Symptoms that never occur with stye and chalazion: fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Shingles (herpes zoster)

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox. Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, usually on one side of the body or face. Rashes or blisters appear anywhere from one to 14 days later. If shingles appears on the face, it may affect vision or hearing.

You should go to a retail clinic or your primary care physician to be treated for shingles. Most common treatments involve pain killers and prescription antiviral medicines.

Periorbital cellulitis

Periorbital cellulitis is an infection of the eyelid or skin around the eye, which does not extend into the interior of the orbit (bony framework that surrounds the eyeball). Periorbital cellulitis commonly affects children under 18 months old.

You should seek immediate medical care at an urgent care clinic or ER. Antibiotics will be prescribed if bacterial infection is suspected, and immediate evaluation is recommended to make sure that the infection does not spread into the eye.

Orbital cellulitis

Orbital cellulitis is a serious infection of the bony cavity (the orbit) which holds the eyeball. This condition affects the eye, eyelids, eyebrows, and cheeks, and causes the eyeball to have a swollen appearance. It can cause blindness if the infection is not treated.

You should seek immediate medical care at an urgent care clinic or ER. Antibiotics are given immediately to treat the infection, even before results from the laboratory have come back. You may likely be hospitalized as well.

Non-allergic rhinitis

Rhinitis simply means "inflammation of the nose." When it is caused by something other than allergies, it is called vasomotor rhinitis. "Vasomotor" simply refers to the constriction or dilation of blood vessels.

Different substances can trigger the vasomotor reaction, even though it is not an allergic reaction. Common causes are certain medications; air pollution; and chronic medical conditions.

Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and postnasal drip. Since no allergy is involved, there will not be the scratchy throat or itchy eyes and nose of allergic rhinitis.

A medical provider should be seen for ongoing symptoms, since they can interfere with quality of life. Also, using over-the-counter medications meant for allergic rhinitis will not help in a case of vasomotor rhinitis.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and allergy tests, in order to rule out allergies as a cause of the symptoms.

Treatment involves using the appropriate medications to ease the symptoms, and avoiding any triggers as much as possible.

Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.

Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure.

Contact dermatitis is not contagious.

Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.

Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.

A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.

Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash

Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border

Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes

Urgency: Self-treatment

Inflamed eyelid (blepharitis)

Inflamed eyelid, or blepharitis, is a bacterial infection of the skin at the base of the eyelashes.

If the oil glands around the eyelashes become clogged, normal skin bacteria will multiply in the oil and cause infection. The glands can become blocked due to dandruff of the scalp and eyebrows; allergies to eye makeup or contact lens solution; or eyelash mites or lice.

Symptoms include red, swollen, painful eyelids; oily, dandruff-like flakes of skin at the base of the eyelashes; and eyelashes that grow abnormally or fall out.

If the symptoms do not clear with hygiene, see a medical provider. Blepharitis can become chronic and lead to infections of the eyelids and cornea; dry eyes which cannot take contact lenses; and scarring and deformity of the eyelids.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination of the eyelids, under magnification and through skin swab of the eyelashes.

Treatment includes warm compresses and careful washing of the eyelids; antibiotics in pill or cream form; steroid eyedrops; and treatment for any underlying condition such as dandruff or rosacea.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: eye itch, sensitivity to light, eye redness, feeling of something in the eye, dry eyes

Symptoms that never occur with inflamed eyelid (blepharitis): severe eye pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.

The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.

Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.

Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, dermatitis, atopic eczema, or AD, is a chronic skin condition with an itchy rash.

AD is not contagious. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens.

AD is most often seen in infants and young children. Most susceptible are those with a family history of AD, asthma, or hay fever.

Infants will have a dry, scaly, itchy rash on the scalp, forehead, and cheeks. Older children will have the rash in the creases of elbows, knees, and buttocks.

Without treatment, a child may have trouble sleeping due to the intense itching. Constant scratching may cause skin infections and the skin may turn thickened and leathery.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, patient history, and allergen skin tests.

AD cannot be cured, but can be controlled through prescribed medications, skin care, stress management, and treatment of food allergies. Those with AD often have allergies to milk, nuts, and shellfish. Keeping the skin clean and moisturized helps prevent flareups.

Chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is a general term for kidney damage caused over time by other illnesses, especially high blood pressure and diabetes. Eventually kidney function becomes impaired and wastes are no longer properly filtered from the blood, leading to serious illness.

Most susceptible are those over age 50 with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and/or a family history of kidney disease.

Symptoms include fatigue; difficulty concentrating; poor appetite; muscle cramps at night; dry, itchy skin; swollen eyes, feet, and ankles; and increased urination.

Left untreated, chronic kidney disease results in serious illness, kidney failure, and death. It is important to see a medical provider as soon as symptoms begin.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; a blood test called Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR;) ultrasound or CT scan of the kidneys; and sometimes a kidney biopsy.

Treatment includes medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and fluid retention, and a low-protein diet to reduce the work the kidneys must do. Dialysis and kidney transplant are only done if there is kidney failure.

Chronic allergies

New-onset seasonal allergies, also called adult-onset seasonal allergies, are sensitivities to pollen, mold, and other irritants that cause nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, and sore throat.

Seasonal allergies commonly begin in childhood but can start at any age, especially among those with a family history. Moving to a different geographic location may trigger the allergy in someone with a genetic predisposition. Anyone with asthma is more likely to experience adult-onset seasonal allergies.

Sometimes the symptoms are actually from "pregnancy rhinitis" – nasal congestion and sneezing due to the effects of pregnancy hormones on the nasal tissue.

A new-onset allergy is often thought to be a cold, but a cold will clear up without treatment. Allergies persist, never getting better or worse, and can interfere with quality of life.

Diagnosis is made by an allergist, who will use skin tests and blood tests.

There is no cure for seasonal allergies but the symptoms can be managed for greater comfort and relief. Antihistamines, corticosteroid nasal sprays, and immunotherapy or "allergy shots" can be very effective.

Questions your doctor may ask about redness around the eye

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Do you have a stuffy nose?
  • Did you possibly brush into poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac?
  • Do you have dry eyes?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Redness around the eye symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced redness around the eye have also experienced:

  • 6% Eye Redness
  • 5% Swelling Of The Eye Area
  • 4% Eye Pain

People who have experienced redness around the eye were most often matched with:

  • 50% Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
  • 25% Inflamed Eyelid (Blepharitis)
  • 25% Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

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