How to Treat and Get Rid of Red Eyes

Over-the-Counter and Natural Solutions

Red eyes are a common problem. How to get rid of red eyes depends in part on the cause. Fortunately, red-eye treatments are commonly available over-the-counter.

This article explores different treatments for red eyes and details how to get rid of red eyes. It also explains when to see your healthcare provider for red-eye treatment

What Is Red Eyes?

That "bloodshot" appearance of red eyes occurs when blood vessels in the white part of the eye—the conjunctiva—are irritated and become enlarged.

This can happen for many reasons. In some cases, it's a sign of a medical condition such as pink eye (conjunctivitis), uveitis, corneal ulcer, or acute angle-closure glaucoma, especially if accompanied by certain symptoms.

See your healthcare provider for prompt referral to an ophthalmologist if you have a red eye following an injury, or have:

  • Severe pain
  • Vision changes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pus
  • Cold-like symptoms
  • Nausea
  • Blood in the iris (the colored part of the eye)

Most often, however, the cause of red eyes is benign, such as lack of sleep, alcohol consumption, smoking (and kicking the habit is the most advisable solution), swimming in a chlorinated pool, or, ironically, overusing eye drops to treat the redness.

In these cases, there are over-the-counter (OTC) products and home remedies you can try to get the red out and prevent it from coming back.

causes of red and bloodshot eyes
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell
1

Cold Compresses

Cold compresses work to treat red eyes by constricting blood vessels in the eyes. Not only will this help to erase redness, it'll reduce fluid retention around the eyes.

How to Use:

  • To make a cold compress, fill a bowl with ice and water.
  • Submerge a clean washcloth in the water to soak it up.
  • Remove it and wring out the excess.
  • Apply to closed eyes for between five and 10 minutes.
  • Repeat a few times per day. 

Small bags of frozen peas or corn make effective compresses for red eye as well, as they conform to the eye area and tend to stay colder longer than a cloth.

2

Artificial Tears

Artificial tears, clinically known as demulcent drops, are over-the-counter eye drops formulated to restore moisture to dry, inflamed eyes. Artificial tears are a common red eye treatment and should be applied fairly often; most people tend to under-use them.

Causes of dry eye include:

  • Environmental conditions (wind, smoke, dry climate)
  • Age (being over 50)
  • Screen use
  • Medications (antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, antidepressants)
  • Medical conditions (diabetes, thyroid disease, Sjogren's syndrome)

How to Use

To get rid of red eyes, try inserting artificial tears:

  • Every hour for the first six hours
  • Six times per day for the rest of the week

Some people store a bottle of eye drops in the refrigerator, as the chilled fluid may be soothing to the eyes.

3

Vasoconstrictors

Vasoconstrictors (decongestants) work by shrinking the small blood vessels in the conjunctiva. Examples of vasoconstricting eye drops include:

  • Visine Original (tetrahydrozoline)
  • Clear Eyes (naphazoline)
  • Neofrin (phenylephrine)

Vasoconstricting eye drops are not popular with eye doctors for treating red eye because, when used for too long, they wear off quickly and prompt too-frequent use. This can cause "rebound redness"—when the drops wear off, blood vessels dilate even larger than they were before, making eyes appear bloodshot.

How to Use

Apply eye drops to treat red eye no more than twice daily:

  • Once in the morning
  • Once before bedtime

Vasoconstrictors reduce redness and may be used safely for up to 72 hours.

More frequent use of this type of eye drop is not good for your eyes. If you find yourself needing them every morning, consult your healthcare provider.

Precautions

Do not use vasodilator eye drops without consulting your healthcare provider first if you're pregnant or have:

People who have narrow-angle glaucoma should not use vasodilator eye drops.

4

Antihistamine Eye Drops

Antihistamine eye drops contain medications designed to treat symptoms of eye allergy (allergic conjunctivitis)—chief among them itching, but also redness, soreness, stinging, and/or swelling—triggered by the immune system response to an allergen.

Once available only by prescription, antihistamine eye drops can now be purchased over the counter. Brands include Opcon-A and Naphcon-A, which contain both an antihistamine to control itching and a vasoconstrictor to shrink swollen blood vessels to reduce redness.

How to Use

Antihistamines are short-acting, so they must be used:

  • At least four times per day
  • Or per a healthcare provider's direction
  • But not for more than two to three consecutive days, as this can increase irritation and other symptoms

If you wear contact lenses, wait 10 minutes after using antihistamine eye drops before inserting them.

Precautions

If your eye allergy symptoms don't improve or worsen, see your eye doctor. Ask your healthcare provider before using an antihistamine/vasoconstrictor eye drop (such as Opcon-A) if you have:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Narrow angle glaucoma

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes eyes to be red?

    Red eyes are commonly caused by allergies, a lack of sleep, excessive alcohol or drug use, smoking, or dry eye. More serious causes of red eyes include blepharitis, conjunctivitis, injury, or glaucoma. 

  • How can I clear my red eyes?

    Red eye treatments depend on the cause. For eyes that are red due to fatigue and eyestrain, try a cool compress over closed eyes and rest for a while. You can also try lightly massaging your eyelids. Over-the-counter eye drops, like Visine, can also get rid of red eyes fast, depending on the cause. If these at-home treatments do not help, see your eye doctor. 

  • How do you cure red eyes naturally?

    Natural treatments may or may not work to get rid of red eyes, especially if they are caused by an infection. You can try to prevent red eyes by getting enough sleep and avoiding alcohol, allergens, and smoke. Cool compresses, such as cumber slices or cooled teabags may help to relieve tired, red eyes.

  • How long do bloodshot eyes last?

    It depends on the cause. Red eyes from a rough night can last a few hours. Red eyes from allergies will last for an hour or so after taking an antihistamine and may come and go throughout allergy season. Red eyes from pink eye will typically clear up within a week if caused by a viral infection or 24 to 48 hours after you start treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis. Red eyes from a subconjunctival hemorrhage can take a few weeks to clear up.

  • Can lack of sleep cause red eyes?

    Yes, not getting enough sleep can cause bloodshot eyes. This is because your eyes heal themselves as you sleep. If you do not get enough sleep, your eyes may produce less lubricating tears, causing your eyes to be dry, itchy, and red. 

  • Are red eyes a symptoms of COVID-19?

    Not typically, but it can happen. COVID-19 presents in different ways depending on the variant of coronavirus. Red eyes are not a common symptom of COVID-19, but some cases of conjunctivitis have been reported with COVID, particularly in children.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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