Top Treatments for Red Eyes

If you've ever woken up with a red eye, you know its a little alarming. You may not notice any symptoms other than redness, so you may wonder what you did to cause the redness. Even though your red eye may not cause any discomfort, it is still noticeable and probably not very attractive. Many people suffer from red eye and wonder how to properly treat their symptoms, in order to get rid of the redness as soon as possible. 

As the name suggests, red eyes are actually red-colored eyes. The blood vessels in the white portion of the eyes are enlarged and irritated, causing the redness. Even though the cause of eye redness could be nothing important, a red eye can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem, such as viral pink eye.

If your red eyes are accompanied by a discharge from the eye or you have cold-like symptoms, see your doctor before beginning self-treatment.

If your vision is not reduced, you have no light sensitivity and you are not in pain, then you may want to try a few home remedies first to try to get the red out. Here are a few things for you to try:


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 relief quickly. 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 four 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 well, 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 5 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, these eye drops are now available over the counter. Available under the names Opcon-A or Naphon-A, they contain both an antihistamine to control itching and a vasoconstrictor to shrink swollen blood vessels to reduce redness.

Suggested Use: These medicines are short-acting, so they must be taken four times per day or more, and should not be used long term.

If your condition does not improve or worsens, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor.



Vasoconstrictors 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 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.

Suggested Use: Apply only twice daily, once in the morning and once before bedtime. Vasoconstrictors reduce redness and may be used safely for a couple of weeks. If you find yourself using 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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  • Catania, Louis J. "Primary Care of the Anterior Segment," 2nd edition, Copyright 1995. Appleton & Lange. Pp 72-74.