What causes redness and swelling in the eyes and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Redness and swelling in the eyes can be a common and bothersome issue that many people experience at some point in their lives. It can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from allergies to infections. Understanding the causes and knowing how to treat this condition can help alleviate discomfort and promote overall eye health.

What Causes Redness in Eyes?

Eye redness, also known as red eyes, can occur due to several reasons. Some common causes include:

  • Allergies: Allergic reactions to substances such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites can cause redness in the eyes.
  • Conjunctivitis: Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the white part of the eye. It can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, allergies, or irritants.
  • Dryness: Insufficient tear production or excessive evaporation of tears can lead to dry eyes, resulting in redness and irritation.
  • Eye strain: Prolonged use of digital devices, reading in poor lighting conditions, or focusing on a single object for an extended period can strain the eyes and cause redness.
  • Foreign objects: When a foreign object, such as dust or an eyelash, enters the eye, it can cause irritation and redness.

What Causes Swelling in Eyes?

Swelling in the eyes, also known as swollen eyes, can be caused by various factors. Some common causes include:

  • Allergies: Similar to eye redness, allergies can cause swelling in the eyes as well.
  • Eye infections: Infections such as styes, which are painful red bumps that form on the eyelid, can cause swelling.
  • Orbital cellulitis: This is a serious infection that affects the tissues surrounding the eye and can cause swelling, redness, and pain.
  • Eye trauma: Any injury to the eye, such as a blow or a foreign object, can lead to swelling.
  • Blocked tear ducts: When the tear ducts become blocked, tears cannot drain properly, leading to swelling and discomfort.

Treating Redness and Swelling in the Eyes

1. Allergy Relief

If allergies are the cause of redness and swelling in your eyes, there are several steps you can take to find relief:

  • Avoid allergens: Identify and avoid triggers that cause your allergies, such as pollen or pet dander.
  • Use over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops: These can help reduce redness and itching.
  • Apply a cold compress: Placing a cold compress over your eyes can provide temporary relief from redness and swelling.

2. Treating Conjunctivitis

If you suspect conjunctivitis, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis. Treatment options may include:

  • Antibiotic eye drops or ointments: If the cause is bacterial, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection.
  • Antihistamine eye drops: If the cause is allergic, antihistamine eye drops can help alleviate symptoms.
  • Warm compresses: Applying warm compresses to the eyes can help reduce swelling and discomfort.

3. Managing Dry Eyes

To manage dry eyes and reduce redness, consider the following:

  • Use artificial tears: Over-the-counter artificial tears can help lubricate the eyes and relieve dryness.
  • Avoid dry environments: Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air and prevent dryness.
  • Take breaks from digital devices: Follow the 20-20-20 rule, which suggests looking away from screens every 20 minutes and focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

4. Seeking Medical Attention

If the redness and swelling in your eyes persist or worsen, it is crucial to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional can determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment.


Redness and swelling in the eyes can be caused by various factors, including allergies, infections, dryness, eye strain, and foreign objects. Understanding the underlying cause is essential for effective treatment. By following the tips mentioned above and seeking medical attention when necessary, you can alleviate discomfort and promote healthy eyes.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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