Top Treatments for Red Eyes

It is a common problem to look in the mirror and notice you have red eyes and want to find a quick solution. When the blood vessels in the white portion of the eyes are irritated, they become enlarged, causing red "bloodshot" appearance. The cause is usually benign, due to lack of sleep, allergies, alcohol consumption, or swimming in a chlorinated pool. But it can be a sign of a condition that may warrant a visit to your healthcare provider or an ophthalmologist, such as pink eye (conjunctivitis), uveitis, corneal ulcer, or acute angle-closure glaucoma.

See your doctor 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, or note blood in the iris.

If you don't have concerning symptoms, then you may want to try a few home remedies to reduce the redness.


Artificial Tears

A red eye is often a dry eye. Sometimes your eyes can become dry and inflamed after a short or restless night's sleep. Redness caused by dry eyes is often accompanied by itching, burning and a gritty sensation. Artificial tears, which are simply lubricating eye drops, can provide much-needed quick relief. They are available over the counter and come in a variety of brand names and formulations. Artificial tears should be applied fairly often, and most people tend to underuse them.

Suggested Use: Try inserting artificial tears every hour for the first six hours, then 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 is soothing to the eyes.


Cold Compresses

If you can't get to the pharmacy, cold compresses will help to constrict the blood vessels in your eyes. To make a cold compress, fill a bowl with ice and water. Submerge a clean washcloth into the bowl, then wring out the excess water. Small bags of frozen peas or corn work well for this purpose, as they conform to the eye area and maintain a cold temperature. Cold compresses will not only help the redness go away but will also help reduce fluid retention around the eyes after sleeping.

Suggested Use: Apply cold compresses to closed eyes for five to 10 minutes, a few times per day. 


Antihistamine Eye Drops

If your eyes are red but are also tearing and itchy, you could have eye allergies. If you can't make it in to see your eye doctor right away, you may want to try an over-the-counter antihistamine eye drop.

After years of being available only by prescription, antihistamine eye drops are now available over the counter, and these can relieve the itchiness as well. Look for the names Opcon-A or Naphcon-A, which contain both an antihistamine to control itching and a vasoconstrictor to shrink swollen blood vessels to reduce redness.

If your condition does not improve or worsens, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor. Ask your healthcare provider before using an antihistamine/decongestant eye drop (such as Opcon-A) if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, enlarged prostate, or narrow angle glaucoma.

Suggested Use: These medicines are short-acting, so they must be taken four times per day (or more—consult with your doctor), and should not be used long term. Taking them for more than two to three days can actually increase the irritation and your symptoms.

Antihistamine eye drops should not be applied while you are wearing contact lenses. Wait 10 minutes after using the eye drops before placing your contact lenses.



Vasoconstrictors (decongestants) are commonly referred to as "get the red out" eye drops, as they shrink the small blood vessels in the conjunctiva. Vasoconstrictors are not popular with eye doctors because when used for too long, they wear off quickly and result in people using them too frequently, and then can create "rebound redness." When the drops wear off, the blood vessels may dilate even larger than they were before, causing your eyes to appear bloodshot.

Vasodilator eye drops should not be used by people with narrow angle glaucoma. They should only be used after consulting with your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or have heart or blood pressure problems, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism.

Suggested Use: Apply only twice daily, once in the morning and once before bedtime. Vasoconstrictors reduce redness and may be used safely for up to 72 hours. If you find yourself needing them every morning, seek the advice of an eye doctor. Daily use of this type of eye drop is not good for your eyes. 

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