What causes redness of eyes and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Red eyes can be a common occurrence for many individuals, causing discomfort and concern. The redness in the eyes can be accompanied by various symptoms such as eye irritation, redness and swelling. Understanding the causes of red eyes and how to treat them can help alleviate the discomfort and restore clear, healthy eyes.

What Causes Red Eyes?

There are several factors that can contribute to redness in the eyes:

  • Allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust, pet dander, or certain medications can cause redness and irritation in the eyes.
  • 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.
  • Dryness: Insufficient tear production or excessive evaporation of tears can lead to dry eyes, causing redness and discomfort.
  • Eye strain: Prolonged use of digital devices, reading in poor lighting conditions, or focusing on a specific task for an extended period can strain the eyes, resulting in redness.
  • Foreign objects: When a foreign object, such as dust or an eyelash, enters the eye, it can cause irritation and redness.
  • Eye infections: Infections such as blepharitis or uveitis can cause redness, along with other symptoms like pain and discharge.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to smoke, chemicals, or other irritants can lead to redness and irritation in the eyes.

Treating Red Eyes

The treatment for red eyes depends on the underlying cause. Here are some effective ways to alleviate redness and promote eye health:

1. Allergy Relief

If allergies are the cause of red eyes, over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops can provide relief. These drops help reduce inflammation and itching. Avoiding allergens and keeping the eyes clean can also help prevent redness.

2. Conjunctivitis Treatment

If the redness is due to conjunctivitis, it is important to determine the cause. Viral conjunctivitis usually resolves on its own, but bacterial conjunctivitis may require antibiotic eye drops or ointments. Allergic conjunctivitis can be managed with antihistamine eye drops or oral medications.

3. Lubricating Eye Drops

For dry eyes, lubricating eye drops can provide relief by moisturizing the eyes and reducing redness. These drops can be used as needed throughout the day to keep the eyes hydrated.

4. Resting the Eyes

Eye strain can be relieved by taking regular breaks from activities that require intense focus. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This helps relax the eye muscles and reduce redness.

5. Removing Foreign Objects

If a foreign object is causing redness and irritation, it is important to remove it carefully. Avoid rubbing the eyes, as this can worsen the irritation. Rinse the eyes with clean water or use artificial tears to flush out the object.

6. Treating Eye Infections

If redness is accompanied by pain, discharge, or changes in vision, it may indicate an eye infection. It is crucial to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment. Eye infections are typically treated with prescription eye drops or oral medications.

7. Protecting the Eyes

Preventing redness and irritation in the eyes can be achieved by taking certain precautions:

  • Wear protective eyewear when engaging in activities that may cause eye injury or exposure to irritants.
  • Avoid rubbing the eyes, as this can introduce bacteria and worsen redness.
  • Keep the eyes clean by washing hands before touching the eyes and regularly cleaning contact lenses.
  • Use artificial tears or eye drops to keep the eyes lubricated, especially in dry environments.
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, to promote overall eye health.

By following these tips and seeking appropriate medical care when necessary, redness in the eyes can be effectively treated and prevented. It is important to remember that persistent or severe redness should be evaluated by an eye care professional to rule out any underlying conditions. Maintaining good eye hygiene and protecting the eyes from irritants can go a long way in keeping the eyes clear, comfortable, and healthy.

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