18 Reasons You May Have Red and Bloodshot Eyes

The term "red eye" is used to describe red, bloodshot eyes. Bloodshot eyes are usually painless and develop when blood vessels near the surface of the eye become enlarged and dilated. Some culprits can cause your eyes to feel inflamed and irritated, so you may find yourself seeking relief from your eye doctor.

Many people suffer from red eye every once and awhile, but a red eye is not normal.

If you've ever had bloodshot eyes, you may have wondered what you did to cause your eyes to become so irritated. Below are a few common causes. And while it is always best to seek the advice of your eye doctor, you may want to try a few red eye home remedies first, at least to get a little relief.

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

Dry Eye Syndrome

A common cause of bloodshot eyes is dry eye syndrome. It occurs when there are not enough natural tears to keep the front part of the eye lubricated. When your eye becomes dry, it also becomes very red and irritated.

Dry eyes can occur if you stare at the computer screen for an extended amount of time, if you don't get enough quality sleep, or if you wear your contact lenses for too long. You can also develop dry eyes from medications you take chronically. Hormonal changes occurring inside your body can also cause your eyes to become dry and irritated. Dry eyes can also develop if the glands that produce tears are plugged up with sweat and oil.

What to Do

If your eyes are red and bloodshot due to dry eye syndrome, it might be helpful to instill lubricant eye drops into your eyes. Lubricant, or rewetting eye drops, are sold over the counter and can be used throughout the day.


Pink Eye

Some cases of red eye are caused by pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis. It is an inflammation or infection of the clear, protective layer that coats the front part of the eye.

Pink eye can be caused by allergies, bacteria, viruses, or toxic substances. It is very common but is usually not serious.

What to Do

Visit your doctor if you suspect you have pink eye. Because there are a wide variety of things that can cause pink eye, it is important to get your pink eye checked out especially if it is associated with pain and vision changes.



Blepharitis is a common cause of red, irritated eyes and is caused by impacted oil glands that are unable to secrete the lipid layer of the tear film well;.Common causes include poor makeup hygiene, decreased blink, and possibly ocular demodecosis (a skin mite that normally lives on our skin). Typically, blepharitis is an inflammatory coniditon of the eyelid, and not infectious.

If you have blepharitis, you may notice a gritty or burning sensation in your eyes, excessive tearing, itching, red and swollen eyelids, dry eyes, or crusting of your eyelids. The condition is not contagious and usually does not cause permanent damage to your eyesight.

What to Do

Good eyelid hygiene is important, including regularly cleaning the lids and lashes and eyelid scrubs. If you find that this doesn't help, see your doctor for possible antibiotics or medications.



Uveitis, an inflammation of the eye's uvea, can cause redness, pain, blurry vision, floaters, and light sensitivity. Symptoms of this condition can occur suddenly and get worse very quickly.

What to Do

Uveitis should be treated quickly because other complications, such as uveitic glaucoma or retinal and choroidal scarring, may occur if it lingers.

Your doctor will most likely prescribe a form of steroids to help reduce inflammation. If he or she is able to determine the underlying cause for the uveitis, treatment for that cause will be in order as well.


Frequent Use of Eye Drops

Do you reach for eye drops when you wake up to red eyes? Surprisingly, frequent use of "get the red out" eye drops can actually make the eyes appear even redder. The chronic use of these eyedrops can cause “rebound dilation” of the blood vessels in the eyes, causing the eyes to appear even more bloodshot.

Before instilling eye drops of any kind, it's a good idea to first consult with your eye doctor to identify the cause of your red eyes.


Contact Lens Wear

Contact lenses can be irritating to the eyes, causing them to turn red. Poorly fitting contact lenses, lens overwear, traumatic removal of a contact lens, wearing a damaged contact lens, and poor contact lens hygiene are all possible causes of red eyes due to contact lens complications. The worse contact lens complication includes getting a bacterial infection on the cornea of the eye called a "corneal ulcer, which can threaten vision.

What to Do

If you have red eyes associated with contact lens wear, it is imperative to see a eye doctor to check for possible complications



Redness sometimes occurs with an eye injury. Injuring your eye could be as simple as sticking yourself with a mascara wand or accidentally wiping your eye with a sharp fingernail.

When you injure your eye, blood vessels inside the eye enlarge and dilate to bring blood and cells to heal and repair the injury. A red eye resting from an injury is also a warning sign to let you know that something is wrong with your eye.

Visit your doctor to make sure that you did not harshly damage your eye.


Corneal Ulcer or Infection

If the eye's cornea becomes infected, nearby blood vessels become enlarged and swollen as cells rush in to help fight the infection. These cells can cause visible redness.

This occurs because the cornea is avascular, meaning normally, the cornea does not have any blood vessels in it. It gets most of its oxygen and nutrients from the tears and outside atmosphere. With a corneal infection, the nearby blood vessels enlarge to get important inflammatory cells to the site quickly.

What to Do

The treatment of corneal ulcerations includes medicated drops that are targeted to treat the reason for the underlying infection; the most common medicated drops are bacterial, followed by antiviral and antifungal. Steroids are not commonly started at the onset of corneal ulcer treatment but may be used to reduce scarring and inflammation once the infection is under control. Corneal ulcer treatment needs to be aggressive in order to prevent potential vision loss and blindness.


Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

A subconjunctival hemorrhage causes the white part of the eye to become completely red. It occurs when one of the blood vessels bursts or breaks underneath the conjunctiva, the transparent, clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye.

The blood has no place to go, so it spreads out, like ketchup under plastic wrap. If the vessel bleeds a lot, the blood can create a bulbous subconjunctival hemorrhage in which the blood gathers so much that the eye appears swollen and pouches outward.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage can look very scary, but it usually does not cause permanent harm to the eye. Straining too hard, lifting something too heavy, sneezing and coughing too hard are common culprits.

What to Do

Schedule an appointment with your eye doctor, who will examine your eye and make sure that no other damage is present. Measuring your eye pressure and looking inside your eye may also be helpful for ruling out further damage.


Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Sometimes a red eye can signal a serious condition. One very serious eye condition that may cause red eye is acute angle-closure glaucoma, which is a serious medical emergency that must be treated immediately. It occurs when the fluid pressure inside the eye rises quickly. This serious type of glaucoma usually causes sudden redness in the eye, severe eye pain, and blurred vision (usually occurring in only one eye). Make sure to visit your doctor as soon as possible.



Another condition that can give your eyes a bloodshot appearance is episcleritis. This is an inflammation of the thin clear layer of tissue that lies between the conjunctiva and sclera. Episcleritis causes mild eye pain and irritation along with eye redness. Sometimes the eyes become tender to the touch.

What to Do

Episcleritis can be treated with artificial tears. Steroids can be used if this condition is particularly symptomatic.

Scleritis is a deeper inflammation of the outer coat of the eyeball, called the sclera; It is usually deeply red. Scleritis needs immediate attention from an eye doctor and often requires oral anti-inflammatories and topical steroid drops. Often, scleritis is attributable to a systemic autoimmune condition, and therefore, blood work is ordered as well.



Your eyes can become bloodshot because of allergies. Red eyes associated with burning and itching are often caused by allergies. The eyes become red because the blood vessels in the front part of the eye dilate and become larger. Fluid accumulates and causes swelling.

What to Do

This type of redness is treated supportively with cold compresses, artificial tears, avoidance of triggers, and OTC anti-allergy medications like H1 blockers. Treatment can also include topical mast cell stabilizers like ketotifen over the counter, amongst other eye drops targeted for allergies. (Note that systemic anti-allergic medications can "dry" people out and thereby increase symptoms of dry eye.)



Pregnancy causes big changes to several hormones in the body. These changes can cause the body to produce fewer tears, so your eyes may feel irritated or gritty. They may appear red and sensitive to light.

What to Do

It may be challenging to wear contacts during pregnancy. Many pregnant women opt for glasses until after they give birth.


Computer Vision Syndrome

Red, dry eyes result from a lack of moisture to the eyes. Your tears work to replenish moisture to the eyes by blinking. Blinking is one of the fastest reflexes of the body. However, people tend to blink about half as much as normal when they are working on a computer.

What to Do

Try to reduce redness by blinking more often. Also, replenish moisture in the eye by using artificial tears.



Smoking a cigarette releases several harmful chemicals including formaldehyde, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. These chemicals are irritating to the sensitive membranes of the eyes, causing inflammation and "bloodshot eyes." Smoking can also increase the risk of cataracts, a cloudiness in the lens of the eye.



Many people develop red eyes after spending some time in a pool.

Redness occurs when blood vessels near the surface of the eye become enlarged and dilated. Chlorine used in pools can also cause the eyes to become irritated. If you're prone to getting red eyes from swimming, wearing swim goggles in the pool is a good option.


Lack of Sleep

 If you don't get enough sleep, your eyes may show it.

Losing sleep tends to increase the retention of blood and fluid around the eyes, making them appear puffy and red. Lack of sleep can also lead to dry eyes.

Eyes need a constant supply of tears to function properly, which is why blinking is so important. Not allowing the eyes to close for a long night prevents eyes from getting proper fluid circulation. Your eyes need fluid in order to clean and renew. Staying awake too long is not a good idea for overall eye health.



Drinking alcohol can cause some people to develop eye redness. Alcohol can cause vasodilation, causing the vessels on the white part of the eye to become larger and more visible. Also, alcohol is dehydrating and can causes the eyes to appear red and tired.

A Word From Verywell

A bloodshot eye can appear with simply a few visible red blood vessels or can be completely red. There are many reasons why your eye may appear bloodshot, but in most cases, it is red for a reason.

It is best not to overlook a bloodshot eye—your eye and your body are trying to tell you something important. If you develop bloodshot eyes, it's a good idea to have your eye doctor determine the cause, even if it is harmless, like in many cases.

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Article Sources
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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Additional Reading
  • 1.Wu, Brian. "Red eyes: List of common causes." Medical News Today, 4 Mar 2017.
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