What causes redness and swelling of the eye and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

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

What Causes Redness and Swelling of the Eye?

There are several potential causes for redness and swelling of the eye, including:

  • Allergies: Allergic reactions to substances such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites can cause the eyes to become red and swollen.
  • Conjunctivitis: Commonly 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.
  • Eye strain: Prolonged use of digital devices, reading in poor lighting conditions, or focusing on a single task for an extended period can strain the eyes and lead to redness and swelling.
  • Dry eyes: Insufficient tear production or poor tear quality can result in dry eyes, causing redness, irritation, and swelling.
  • Foreign objects: When a foreign object, such as dust, an eyelash, or a chemical substance, enters the eye, it can cause redness and swelling as the eye tries to protect itself.
  • Eye infections: Infections such as styes, blepharitis, or cellulitis can cause redness, swelling, and discomfort in the eye.

How to Treat Redness and Swelling of the Eye

1. Identify the Cause

Before determining the appropriate treatment, it is essential to identify the underlying cause of the redness and swelling. If the symptoms persist or worsen, it is advisable to consult an eye care professional for a proper diagnosis.

2. Allergy Relief

If allergies are the cause, over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops or oral medications can provide relief. Avoiding allergens and keeping the eyes clean by washing them with cold water can also help reduce redness and swelling.

3. Conjunctivitis Treatment

If conjunctivitis is suspected, it is crucial to determine whether it is viral or bacterial in nature. Viral conjunctivitis typically resolves on its own within a week, while bacterial conjunctivitis may require antibiotic eye drops or ointments prescribed by a healthcare professional.

4. Eye Strain Prevention

To prevent eye strain, it is important to take regular breaks when engaging in activities that require prolonged visual focus. The 20-20-20 rule can be helpful: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Additionally, ensuring proper lighting and using computer glasses, if necessary, can alleviate eye strain.

5. Dry Eye Relief

To relieve dry eyes, artificial tears or lubricating eye drops can be used to provide moisture and alleviate redness and swelling. In some cases, prescription medications or procedures may be necessary to address underlying causes of dry eyes.

6. Foreign Object Removal

If a foreign object is causing the redness and swelling, it is important not to rub the eye, as this can worsen the situation. Instead, try flushing the eye gently with clean water or saline solution. If the object does not come out or the symptoms persist, seek medical attention.

7. Treating Eye Infections

Eye infections often require medical intervention. Warm compresses can be applied to the affected area to alleviate discomfort and promote healing. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment, which may include prescription medications.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While many cases of redness and swelling of the eye can be treated at home, there are situations where medical attention is necessary. It is important to seek immediate medical help if:

  • The symptoms are severe or worsen rapidly
  • There is severe pain or changes in vision
  • The eye is injured or there is a foreign object stuck in the eye
  • There is discharge from the eye
  • The symptoms are accompanied by fever or other systemic signs of infection

Remember, early intervention and proper treatment can help prevent complications and promote a speedy recovery.


Redness and swelling of the eye can be caused by various factors, including allergies, eye strain, dry eyes, foreign objects, and infections. Identifying the underlying cause is crucial in determining the appropriate treatment. While some cases can be managed at home with over-the-counter remedies, it is important to seek medical attention if the symptoms are severe, worsen rapidly, or are accompanied by other concerning signs. By understanding the causes and knowing how to treat redness and swelling of the eye, individuals can take proactive steps to maintain their eye health and alleviate discomfort.

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