The 7 Best Eye Drops for Red Eyes of 2021

Get the relief you need with these top picks

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First Look

Best Overall: Bausch + Lomb Lumify Redness Reliever Eye Drops at Amazon

"Whitens eyes without causing a rebound effect."

Best Budget: Visine Red Eye Comfort Redness Relief Eye Drops at Amazon

"Works right away for a multitude of red-eye causing reasons."

Best Dry Eyes: Rohto DryAid Eye Relief Lubricant Eye Drops at Amazon

"Unique Liquid shield technology targets three layers of your tear film to enhance your eye’s moisturization."

Best for Contact Lenses: Clear Eyes Contact Lens Multi-Action Relief Eye Drops at Amazon

"Doesn't contain any pharmaceutical ingredients, so they won’t harm your lenses."

Best for Itchy Eyes: Bausch & Lomb Opcon-A Allergy Eye Drops at Amazon

"Combines an antihistamine with redness reliever to help fight the worst itching and redness."

Best for Allergies: Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops at Amazon

"A powerful daily relief for all the itching that's giving you red-eye. "

Best for Watery Eyes: Clear Eyes Complete 7 Symptom Relief Eye Drops at Amazon

"Designed to soothe irritation and restore the balance of your natural tears."

Blame your allergies, your contacts, or the smartphone you’re always staring at: whatever the reason, eye redness happens, and sometimes you need a little help getting the whites of your eyes looking, well, white again.

The only trouble is that you don’t want to rely too heavily on OTC eye drops to treat redness, since overuse can actually create bigger problems. 

“The most important thing for patients to know before using redness relief drops to treat their red eye is that they are not really fixing the root cause of their symptoms,” says Jennifer Klinger, M.D., optometrist at Clarkson Eyecare in St. Louis, Missouri. “Redness relief drops give a quick fix by constricting the blood vessels, resulting in a whiter appearance, [but after using them] a few times, the eye becomes reliant on the medication.”

This can cause something called rebound hyperemia, says Dr. Klinger, an effect which will dilate the blood vessels and make the eye even more red. 

Eye drops for red eyes should be used sparingly, and it's important to look into other options to get to the root of your symptoms. But with an overwhelming number of eye drop options on pharmacy shelves, it can be hard to choose the one that’s just right for you.

Here are the best eye drops for red eyes on the market today.

Best Overall: Bausch + Lomb Lumify Redness Reliever Eye Drops

 LUMIFY Redness Reliever Eye Drops

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Quick relief

  • Won’t cause rebound effect

  • Safe for use with contacts

Cons
  • Some users still complain of rebound effect

When your eyes look redder than usual, it’s because the tiny network of blood vessels in the whites of your eyes are swollen. This can be caused by any number of issues: fatigue, irritation, allergies, and dryness, to name a few. So the vast majority of redness-relieving eye drops rely on decongestant ingredients to shrink the swollen blood vessels.

This works great until you use them for more than a few days and suffer from rebound hyperemia.

“The more you use eye drops [that cause vasoconstriction], the more you will feel that your eyes will become dependent on them; when the constriction wears off, the blood vessels temporarily enlarge even bigger than before you used the eye drops,” explains Kathleen Dass, M.D., an allergist and immunologist privately practicing in Michigan.

Thankfully, there is one eye drop on the market that whitens eyes without causing a rebound effect: Bausch + Lomb’s Lumify. These drops reduce redness without decongestant ingredients, relying instead on Brimonidine Tartrate, a solution that can lower the pressure in your eyes and cause blood vessels to contract. The result is an eye drop you can use every six to eight hours as needed to get rid of red eyes without worrying about making your symptoms worse in the future.

Active Ingredients: Brimonidine Tartrate 0.025 perecent | Dosage: 1 drop in the affected eye(s) every 6 to 8 hours, not exceeding 4 times daily | Uses: Redness reliever

Best Budget: Visine Red Eye Comfort Redness Relief Eye Drops

Visine Red Eye Comfort Redness Relief Eye Drops

Courtesy of IHerb

Pros
  • Easy-to-find

  • Fast-acting

  • Can be reapplied every six hours

Cons
  • May cause rebound effect

  • Doesn’t last all day

When you just need quick, fleeting relief from red eyes, you can’t beat the original “get the red out!” brand: Visine. Visine’s redness relieving drops work right away for a multitude of red-eye causing reasons, whether it’s screen overuse, fatigue, or exposure to allergens. You can use them up to four times per day, but make sure you only do it for one or two days at a time—these can cause the dreaded rebound effect.

However, it’s worth noting that while most eye drops containing a vasoconstrictor rely on Naphazoline HCl, Visine uses a different decongestant, Tetrahydrozoline HCl. They’re both vasoconstrictors, but if you have an allergy to Naphazoline or some other reason for wanting to avoid it, you might appreciate that Visine offers an alternative.

Active Ingredients: Tetrahydrozoline Hydrochloride 0.05 percent | Dosage: 1 or 2 drops in the affected eye(s) up to 4 times a day | Uses: Redness reliever 

Best Dry Eyes: Rohto DryAid Eye Relief Lubricant Eye Drops

Rohto Dry Aid Lubricating Eye Drops

Courtesy of Rohto 

Pros
  • Soothes and moisturizes

  • Can be reapplied as needed

  • No risk of rebound

Cons
  • No targeted redness relieving ingredients

  • Doesn’t resolve allergic redness

Eye doctors generally agree that getting to the root cause of your redness is the best course of action, so if your redness is thanks to excessively dry eyes, it’s smart to treat that problem first. With their unique Liquid shield technology, the advanced anti-dryness formula by Rohto targets three layers of your tear film to enhance your eye’s moisturization.

What we like about these drops for dry eyes, is that they’re only designed to hydrate and moisturize. That means there are no risks for rebound hyperemia, and you may not need to reapply them much to solve your red eye problem since dryness is one of the biggest causes of red eyes in the first place.

Active Ingredients: Povidone 0.68 percent, Propylene Glycol 0.3 percent | Dosage: 1 or 2 drops in the affected eye(s) as needed | Uses: Dryness reliever, repairs tear film

Best for Contact Lenses: Clear Eyes Contact Lens Multi-Action Relief Eye Drops

Clear Eyes Contact Lens Relief Soothing Eye Drops

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Can be used while wearing lenses

  • Rewets and cleanses lenses

  • Lubricates dry eyes

Cons
  • No specific redness-relieving ingredients

  • May need to be reapplied frequently

Sure, contact lenses are a great technological advance that allows people with less-than-perfect eyesight to go eyeglass-free but they can also be a real pain to care for, clean, and actually wear, especially if your eyes tend to be dry or sensitive.

“Patients should avoid [red eye drops] if they are wearing contact lenses,” advises Dr. Klinger. “The contact will absorb the medication and preservatives which can cause redness, irritation and can even dilate the pupil; patients can have blurry vision and become sensitive to lights when this occurs.”

So what should you do for red eyes if you wear contacts? Focus on keeping your eyes lubricated with something like the multi-action relief drops by Clear Eyes. Along with rewetting and removing irritating particles, these lubricating drops are specifically formulated to be used while you’re wearing your contacts. And because they don’t contain any pharmaceutical ingredients, they won’t harm your lenses, either.

Active Ingredients: None | Dosage: 1 or 2 drops in the affected eye(s) as needed | Uses: Dry, itchy, irritated relief for contacts lens wearers

Best for Itchy Eyes: Bausch & Lomb Opcon-A Allergy Eye Drops

Bausch & Lomb Allergy Eye Drops for Itch & Redness Relief

Courtesy of Walgreens

Pros
  • Relieves itching and redness

  • Treats multiple types of allergies

Cons
  • May cause rebound effect

  • Lots of re-applications for contact wearers

Sometimes your eyes are itchy because of seasonal or environmental allergens, but other times dryness or contact irritation from new makeup or shampoo products can be the culprit.

Whatever the cause, if your itchy eyes are also red and irritated, you need a product with a redness reliever and an antihistamine. The allergy eye drops by Opcon-A contain both, in concentrations high enough to fight back against the worst itching and redness around. They can tackle allergens of all shapes and sizes and can be used up to four times per day. 

The downsides? They do contain a decongestant, so use them sparingly, and their shorter stretches of relief can make it a pain if you wear contacts that need to be removed every time you want to re-apply the drops.

Active Ingredients: Naphazoline HCl 0.02675 percent, Pheniramine Maleate 0.315% | Dosage: 1 or 2 drops in the affected eye(s) up to 4 times daily | Uses: Itching and redness caused by seasonal or environmental allergies

Best for Allergies: Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops

 Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Treats eye allergies at the source

  • Lasts for up to 12 hours

  • No rebound effect; can be used daily

Cons
  • Won’t instantly reduce redness

  • Only treats itching/allergies of the eye

How do you know if allergies are to blame for your itchy eyes and not something else, like pink eye or a wayward irritant? 

“With allergic conjunctivitis, both of your eyes will usually be red and irritated in response to an allergen,” says Dr. Dass, “while an infection tends to be associated with eyelash crusting, mucus production, and possibly swelling around the eye [only in one eye].” 

So once you’ve narrowed it down to allergies, the next step is figuring out how to treat them. Ongoing eye allergies should not be treated with an eye drop containing a vasoconstricting ingredient (though you can take this route if you’ve had a one-off allergen exposure, like visiting a friend with a housecat or riding in a car with a smoker). 

For daily relief, though, Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops are a powerful way to combat all the itching you’re doing that’s giving you red-eye. Because there’s no risk of rebound, you can rely on these drops—which contain the antihistamine ketotifen—daily for allergic eye relief and say goodbye to your red eyes in the process.

Active Ingredients: Ketotifen 0.025 percent | Dosage: 1 drop in the affected eye(s) twice daily (every 8-12 hours), not exceeding two doses in a 24-hour period | Uses: Itching and irritation caused by seasonal or environmental allergies

Best for Watery Eyes: Clear Eyes Complete 7 Symptom Relief Eye Drops

 Clear Eyes Eye Drops, Complete 7 Symptom Relief

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Specially-formulated to treat watery eyes

  • Multi-symptom relief

Cons
  • May cause rebound effect

Despite how often allergies and irritation can cause your eyes to water, there actually aren’t that many eye drops that target watery eyes as a specific symptom. (Maybe it’s because dryness is often behind irritation, and that means you need more hydration, not less.)

Either way, if you’re tired of looking like you’ve been crying all day thanks to redness and overwatering, the Clear Eyes Complete 7 Symptom Relief drops can take care of both those problems for you (as well as grittiness, burning, and dryness). With a vasoconstrictor and three other ingredients designed to soothe irritation and restore the balance of your natural tears, you can rest assured that these drops will get your eyes looking normal again in no time.

Active Ingredients: Hypromellose 0.20 percent, Naphazoline HCl 0.025 percent, Polysorbate 80 0.50 percent, Zinc Sulfate 0.25% | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops in the affected eye(s) up to four times daily | Uses: Redness, itching, burning, grittiness, watering, irritation, and dryness

Final Verdict

For an all-around stellar redness reliever, reach for Bausch + Lomb’s Lumify Redness Reliever Eye Drops (view at Amazon) (bonus: they won’t cause rebound symptoms!). If your eyes are red and itchy—and you need quick relief for both symptoms—Opcon-A Allergy Eye Drops (view at Amazon) contain an antihistamine and a vasoconstrictor. Contact lens wearers need to be more careful with redness relieving drops, but they can target many of the causes of redness by treating their eyes with the Contact Lens Multi-Action Relief Eye Drops by Clear Eyes (view at Amazon).

What to Look for in Eye Drops for Red Eyes

Decongestant or Not?

In general, the active ingredient in eye drops that targets redness is Naphazoline HCl, a decongestant that constricts the blood vessels in your eyes to make them appear less red. Most redness relievers include some kind of vasoconstrictor; only Lumify contains an alternative ingredient, Brimonidine Tartrate, to make your eyes less red. But you can also opt for eye drops that target the reason for your redness, soothing dry eyes with artificial tears or a lubricant drop and allergic eyes with an antihistamine drop.

Frequency of Use

While decongestants work well to reduce redness, they can’t be used every day. If you have chronic red eyes, you’ll either need to use something like Lumify, which typically doesn’t cause a rebound effect, or decongestant-free eye drops meant to target symptoms that cause redness (like dryness, itching, and irritation). If you only have red eyes infrequently, you can use drops with a decongestant—just be sure to stop after one or two days.

Dosage Timing

Especially important for contact lens wearers, you should look at how often it’s recommended you use or apply your eye drops. Eye drops that treat redness can’t be used while lenses are inserted in your eye; you usually have to apply the drops and wait 10 minutes before putting in your contacts. This isn’t a step you’ll want to repeat throughout the day, so if you’re a contact lens wearer, make sure you choose drops that last at least 12 hours or don’t contain any active ingredients.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do eye drops last for red eyes?

    The length of time redness-relieving eye drops work is very individual to the product you purchase. Some last for 12 hours, while others can be applied every four to six hours as needed. 

    It’s important to consider what your needs are and what’s most convenient for you. If you wear contacts, you should choose a longer-lasting eye drop, but if you only need the occasional dose of relief, you can feel comfortable selecting a product that works for a few hours at a time.

  • Do pink eye drops work for red eyes?

    Pink eye drops are meant to fight the virus or bacteria that has infiltrated your eye and given you an eye infection. They will reduce the redness of your eyes as they treat the infection, but you shouldn’t use medicated eye drops simply to reduce eye redness.

    You also shouldn’t use redness relieving drops to speed up your recovery from viral conjunctivitis, says Dr. Dass; they can make your symptoms worse. Instead, she recommends using artificial tears to get some extra symptom relief. 

What the Experts Say

“Ironically, anyone who wants an effective treatment for their red eye should avoid redness relief drops...often, redness is a result of dry eye, allergies or infections [so] by treating the root cause, patients will get relief from their symptoms and rebound hyperemia can be avoided.” —Jennifer Klinger, M.D., Optometrist at Clarkson Eyecare in St. Louis, Missouri

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Sarah Bradley has been writing health content since 2017—everything from product roundups and illness FAQs to nutrition explainers and the dish on diet trends. She knows how important it is to receive trustworthy and expert-approved advice about over-the-counter products that manage everyday health conditions, from GI issues and allergies to chronic headaches and joint pain.

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