Eye Redness Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your eye redness symptoms, including 10 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 10 Possible Eye Redness Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. Related Articles
  9. References

Eye Redness Symptoms

The eyes are among our most sensitive and vulnerable organs, and when anything goes wrong with them it can be very worrying. Yet your eyes have their own protections and are remarkably resilient in many ways. Even an injury that involves redness and bruising in and around your eye usually looks much worse than it is. Eye redness is also called a "bloodshot" eye, or sometimes scleral injection or conjunctival injection [1,2].

Common characteristics of eye redness

Your eye redness can likely be described by the following details.

  • Widespread redness: The entire sclera, or white of your eye, appears reddened and discolored. A spidery network of red veins may also be visible.
  • Red spots: One or more bright red spots of blood can be seen within the white of your eye.
  • Your eyes feel dry: Or possibly scratchy, irritated, and burning
  • Swelling and/or a discharge: This will appear along the inner surfaces of your eyelids.
  • You feel like something is in your eye
  • Sores or ulcers on or around the eye: These may appear on your cornea (the transparency that covers the iris, or colored part of your eye, and the pupil).

Are eye redness symptoms serious?

The severity of eye redness is ultimately dependent on the cause.

  • Not serious: Eye redness is almost never serious on its own.
  • Moderately serious: If it is accompanied by symptoms of other illness, such as a cold or other infection, you may need to see a medical provider.
  • Serious: If it is accompanied by eye pain and/or visual disturbances, it may indicate a serious condition.

Eye Redness Causes

Many conditions can have eye redness as a symptom. The most common are those involving irritants and infections, as well as injuries [2,3].

Eye redness caused by irritants

The most common eye redness cause types are irritants that create swollen, irritated, or dilated blood vessels within the sclera (white) of your eye:

  • Allergies: These can be allergies to external things, like pollen, or to things you have consumed, like peanuts. Both types of allergies cause severe irritation to the eyes.
  • Dust: This may be house dust, dust blowing outdoors, dust from working around hay or grain, or even dust from textiles within a factory.
  • Overexposure to sun: Exposure to the sun or other very bright light, such as the sun's reflection on snow or water, can cause eye redness.
  • Dryness of the eye: Dryness of the eye can be caused by aging or by an autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Eye redness caused by infections or illnesses

The less common eye redness cause types are infections or other illnesses:

  • Colds
  • Bacterial infection of the conjunctiva: The conjunctiva is the clear tissue that lines the eyelids and surface of your eye.
  • Ulceration of the cornea: The cornea is the transparency over the iris and the pupil. Ulcerations are sores caused by a severe viral or bacterial infection. The bacterial type is sometimes associated with wearing contact lenses, while the viral type is most often seen in those with a past history of cold sores.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Some of which cause inflammation of various structures within your eye
  • Chronic glaucoma: This is a gradual increase in the pressure within your eyeball.
  • A hangover: After a session of drinking alcohol, your eyes can look bloodshot. This is because alcohol is dehydrating, leaving your eyes dry and subject to irritation, and also because alcohol makes blood vessels dilate. This is visible in the whites of your eyes, making them look red.
  • Chronic alcohol use: The eyes of chronic alcoholics often look constantly dry, red, and inflamed.

Eye redness caused by an injury

The rare and unusual eye redness cause types mainly include injuries, such as the following.

  • Subconjunctival hemorrhage: This is a broken blood vessel within your eye [1]. It can happen if you are struck in the eye with an object or if you have a severe fit of coughing. Prolonged emotional upset, such as crying or screaming, can also cause blood vessels in your eye to rupture.
  • Scratches on the cornea: This can be caused by dust, grit, or other foreign body in your eye. Another cause of eye injury is contact lenses left in too long.

10 Possible Eye Redness Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced eye redness. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Acute allergic conjunctivitis

Itchy, red, swelling of the whites of the eyes can be caused by allergies to any number of things (like pollen, hay, etc).

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: eye itch, eye redness, watery eye discharge, itch in both eyes, eye redness

Symptoms that always occur with acute allergic conjunctivitis: eye itch, eye redness

Symptoms that never occur with acute allergic conjunctivitis: lump in front of the ear, vision changes

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Viral conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is an inflammation of the clear membranes covering the eye. It causes redness, pain, and irritation of one or both eyes.

The viral form of conjunctivitis is very contagious because it is caused by the same viruses that cause influenza or the common cold. It is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and then someone else inhales the virus from the droplets in the air.

Symptoms include a gritty, burning feeling in the eye; discharge or tears; swelling; itching; pink discoloration due to dilated blood vessels; and sensitivity to light.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and careful eye examination. Smears may be taken from the eye for testing.

Antibiotics only work against bacteria and cannot help against a viral illness, and so antibiotic eyedrops are not effective against viral conjunctivitis. Treatment includes easing the symptoms with eyedrops and warm or cool compresses over the eyes until the illness has run its course, which takes two to three weeks.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: eye redness, eye itch, sensitivity to light, feeling of something in the eye, watery eye discharge

Symptoms that always occur with viral conjunctivitis: eye redness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Burst blood vessel in the eye from wearing contacts

A burst blood vessel in the eye can happen from wearing contacts because incompatibility of the lens with the eye. This could cause a surface vein to pop.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: eye redness, bright red eyes

Symptoms that always occur with burst blood vessel in the eye from wearing contacts: eye redness

Urgency: Wait and watch

Burst blood vessel in the eye from trauma

A burst blood vessel in the eye can happen after trauma to the eye or the head, which causes a surface vein to pop.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: eye redness, head or face injury, bright red eyes

Symptoms that always occur with burst blood vessel in the eye from trauma: eye redness, head or face injury

Urgency: Wait and watch

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.

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

Eye Redness Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your eye redness

Bacterial conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is an inflammation of the clear membranes covering the eye. It causes redness, pain, and irritation of one or both eyes.

Staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria are often involved, and anything that brings bacteria to the eye can cause conjunctivitis. Touching the eyes with unwashed hands; sharing eye makeup, washcloths, or towels; or improperly cleaning contact lenses are common causes. The same bacteria that cause the sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia and gonorrhea can also cause conjunctivitis.

Most susceptible are children, but anyone can be affected.

Symptoms include a gritty, burning feeling in the eye; discharge or tears; swelling; itching; pink discoloration due to dilated blood vessels; and sensitivity to light.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and careful eye examination. Smears may be taken from the eye for testing.

Treatment involves a course of antibiotic eyedrops. It is important to use all of the drops as prescribed, even when the infection seems to improve. Warm compresses over the eyes can help ease the discomfort.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: sore throat, eye redness, eye itch, watery eye discharge, eye redness

Symptoms that always occur with bacterial conjunctivitis: eye redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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

Foreign body in the eye

Foreign bodies like windblown grit, wood or masonry, or flecks of metal can land in the eye and get stuck there, causing extreme discomfort.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: feeling of something in the eye

Symptoms that always occur with foreign body in the eye: feeling of something in the eye

Urgency: In-person visit

Chronically dry eyes

Chronically dry eyes are a relatively common condition, especially in older adults, that can be very uncomfortable and lead to damage of the surface of the eye. They are caused by a decrease in the tear production of the eye or an increase in tear evaporation. Risk factors inc...

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Anterior uveitis

Uveitis refers to any inflammatory condition that causes swelling and destroys the tissues of the middle layer of the eye. It can occur in people of all ages, but primarily affects people between the ages of 20 and 60 years old.

Uveitis may be the result of eye problems or diseases, or i...

Read more

Eye Redness Treatments and Relief

At-home treatments

Eye Redness remedies that you can try at home include the following.

  • Rest: Try resting your eyes closing them in a dimly lit place.
  • Place cold compresses over your eyes
  • Use over-the-counter eye drops: These can help provide temporary relief of redness and irritation.
  • Use an over-the-counter antihistamine for symptoms of allergies
  • Use over-the-counter cold remedies to ease cold symptoms

When to see a doctor

Schedule an appointment for the following. Your physician can determine a diagnosis and provide treatment.

  • Persistent redness: This is redness that persists for more than a few days, that does not respond to over-the-counter eye drops or other conservative measures [4].
  • Redness along with pain, vision changes, sensitivity to light, and a greenish or yellowish discharge from your eye

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate eye redness treatment in the emergency room if:

  • You have sudden, severe pain and redness of your eye or eyes: Especially for no apparent reason, along with trouble seeing. This can be caused by acute glaucoma, which is a medical emergency.
  • You have redness in your eye along with other symptoms: Such as headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and blurred vision, especially if you've had a recent blow to your head.
  • There is an obvious foreign body in your eye
  • Your eye is bleeding: There is blood present that you can wipe away, and it is not just a spot within the white of your eye.

FAQs About Eye Redness

Here are some frequently asked questions about eye redness.

Can eye redness be permanent?

Eye redness can occur due to many causes, and in most cases, these causes are temporary and not permanent. The most common cause of eye redness is engorgement of the blood vessels of the eye. This is called conjunctivitis and can be triggered by bacterial or viral infections as well as dust or other foreign bodies in the eye [3].

Is my eye redness contagious?

It can be. This depends on the cause of your eye redness. The most common infectious (contagious) form of eye redness is conjunctivitis and is caused by viral illnesses or bacteria entering the eye. Other less common causes of conjunctivitis come from introduction of bacteria from fecal matter to the eye from improper bathroom hygiene. Additionally, herpes can cause severe and contagious eye inflammation called keratitis [5]. Prolonged and painful eye irritation should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Why do I have one bloodshot eye?

One bloodshot eye can be conjunctivitis or inflammation in one eye, trauma to one eye, or a foreign body entering one eye. These common causes can be the product of introduction of bacteria or viral particles to one eye, usually the eye on the side of the dominant hand as the hand most often introduces particles to the eye. If the bloodshot eye becomes painful or does not resolve seek medical attention.

Why are my eyes bloodshot after drinking?

Large amounts of alcohol in the body can cause the blood vessels throughout the body to dilate. This is why individuals who have imbibed alcohol can "flush" or turn red. There are also many small blood vessels in the eye which engorge and dilate causing the appearance of red eyes.

Can stress cause you to pop a blood vessel in your eye?

No, stress does not cause the bursting of a blood vessel in the eye. The bursting of a blood vessel in the eye can be caused by increased blood pressure and fragile blood vessels in the eye causing bursting. A rapid increase in blood pressure can cause the rupture of a blood vessel. Most commonly a valsalva maneuver (similar to bearing down during defecation) can cause a burst blood vessel within the eye.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Eye Redness

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Does light bother your eyes more than usual?
  • Do you feel like there is something in your eye?
  • Do you have a runny nose?
  • Do your eyelids feel sticky?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your eye redness. These questions are also covered.

Eye Redness Quiz

Eye Redness Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced eye redness have also experienced:

  • 4% Sore Throat
  • 4% Headache
  • 3% Fatigue

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

  • 66% Acute Allergic Conjunctivitis
  • 33% Viral Conjunctivitis

People who have experienced eye redness had symptoms persist for:

  • 40% Less than a week
  • 34% Less than a day
  • 11% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Eye Redness Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your eye redness

References

  1. Lusby FW. Eye Redness. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 3, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  2. Lusby FW. Eye Redness. Penn State Hershey. Updated August 20, 2016. Penn State Hershey Link.
  3. Cronau H, Kankanala RR, Mauger T. Diagnosis and Management of Red Eye in Primary Care. American Family Physician. 2010;81(2):137-144. AAFP Link.
  4. Rauch K. Home Remedies for Bloodshot Eyes - And When to See a Doctor. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published October 31, 2017. AAO Link.
  5. Basics of HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) Keratitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated January 27, 2015. CDC Link.