You wake up one morning and see that you have red eyes. Do you know what has caused your bloodshot eyes, and do you know how to treat them?
What are bloodshot eyes?
Bloodshot eyes are when the blood vessels in your eyes dilate, and is typically caused by irritation of the surface of the eye. In many cases, red eyes are harmless, but can sometimes indicate a problem. Temporary irritation can be caused by things like swimming in chlorinated water, exposure to irritants like paint fumes, not sleeping enough, wearing contact lenses, dry eyes, extended reading or working on the computer, tobacco or other smoke exposure, and allergies, among other causes. However, bloodshot eyes could also indicate a more serious cause, like an infection, inflammation, or eye injury.
Sometimes the eye can look bloodshot when there is bleeding from one of the small blood vessels at the surface of the eye. The small blood vessels in the clear skin – the conjunctiva – that covers the white part of the eye are fragile. They can break and then bleed into the space under the conjunctiva. This can cause a red spot or “blood” on the eye.
Can pink eye make my eyes bloodshot?
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a common cause of bloodshot eyes. It’s most commonly caused by a viral infection in the eye, but bacteria and allergies can also cause it. Most viral pink eye will clear up on its own without treatment, typically within 1 to 2 weeks. However, it can be very contagious and can spread from one eye to the other very easily, or to other people. If you have pink eye in one eye you should avoid rubbing the infected eye and then rubbing the other, non-infected eye. You should also avoid contact with others until the pink eye is gone. Wash your hands regularly, and don’t share anything that may come in contact with other people’s eyes. If it’s viral, antibiotic eyedrops won’t help. Don’t use antibiotic eyedrops “as needed,” as it can lead to resistant bacteria and worsen an infection. If you do think it needs treatment, see an eye doctor. If an antibiotic eyedrop is prescribed, use the full course prescribed by your doctor.
How do I treat bloodshot eyes?
Treating the underlying cause of red eyes is key to clearing bloodshot eyes. If your eyes aren’t infected, your symptoms are mild and have just recently developed, over-the-counter artificial tears are a good first treatment. CEENTA Ophthalmologist Ernest Bhend, MD, does not recommend drops that “get the red out,” like Visine or Clear Eyes, because they just constrict blood vessels. Once the medicine wears off, the redness in the eye comes right back, sometimes even more than before. Also, long-term use of those drops can irritate the eye and make the problem worse.
Allergy symptoms can be relieved using artificial tears, as the tears can flush allergens like pollen or dust from the eyes. Only use antihistamine drops if the artificial tears aren’t working, since they can dry the eyes.
Avoiding things that irritate the eyes, like smoke or chlorinated water, can also relieve redness. Eye strain or fatigue can be relieved by resting the eyes or taking breaks.
If you wear contact lenses and develop red eyes, you may need to take a break from wearing them. Make sure you are replacing them and cleaning them appropriately, and don’t sleep in them. If the eye becomes painful, if vision loss develops, or if your red eyes start to look infected, immediately stop wearing your contacts and see an eye doctor. These findings could indicate a scratch on the eye, an infection, or even a possible ulcer.
Rubbing your eyes may worsen the redness and irritation. Do not use home remedies like tap water or teabags on the eyes. These can sometimes lead to infection or make the problems worse.
Do I need to go to the doctor if I have bloodshot eyes?
If your red eyes are associated with trauma, vision loss or significant pain, if blood is leaking from the eye, or if your eye looks infected, seek medical attention right away. If the symptoms persist for several days despite at-home treatment, or they worsen over time, see an eye doctor. And if the bloodshot eyes are associated with other symptoms like fever, rash or joint pain, medical attention is needed.
“If you are in doubt or worried about the cause of your bloodshot eyes, or the symptoms just aren’t getting better with treatments like artificial tears, you should have your eyes evaluated,” Dr. Bhend said. “It is better to be on the safe side when it comes to your eyes.”
This blog is for
informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult
your physician. Dr. Bhend practices in our SouthPark and Matthews offices. To make an appointment with him or any of CEENTA’s eye doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.