Red Eyes: Causes and Treatments

It’s not always clear what’s causing red eyes—or how you should treat it.
Older person looking at self in portable mirror

Have you looked at your eyes in the mirror and noticed they’re red but didn’t know why? Your eye is covered in many tiny blood vessels that circulate nutrients to your eyes and help them operate.

Red eyes, also known as ‘bloodshot’ eyes, occur when these blood vessels expand and cause the eye to appear to have a pink or reddish tint. Unfortunately, there isn’t one single cause for red eyes, but there are some common culprits. The key is to look at your other symptoms, if any, to figure out what might be causing it.


The airborne particles behind outdoor and indoor allergies can cause our eyes’ blood vessels to flare up. This includes seasonal allergies like pollen and year-round ones like dust, pet dander and mold.

With allergies, you tend to have other eye-related symptoms, like itching, burning and tearing. Plus, nasal symptoms, like a stuffy nose or sneezing, can also be a sure sign of allergies.

Dry eye

Your eyes depend on tears to keep them lubricated and feeling comfortable. Occasionally, your tear production can be impaired due to things like contact lenses or allergies. Common symptoms of dry eye include:

  • Burning feeling
  • Gritty eye texture
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye fatigue
  • Discomfort


Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is a condition where your inner eyelid and eye become inflamed due to a virus or bacteria. It’s a common condition; however, it’s very contagious. Its symptoms include:

  • A white, yellow or green discharge around your eyes
  • A burning, itchy or gritty feeling in your eyes
  • Excess tearing
  • Crusting on your eyelid or eyelashes
  • Sensitivity to light

If you suspect you have pinkeye, wash your hands often and don’t rub your eyes. Your doctor can examine your affected eye(s) to confirm if it’s pinkeye and recommend treatment options.


Glaucoma is a condition where fluid builds up in front of your eye and damages your optic nerve, the nerve responsible for allowing your brain to see. It’s usually painless and relatively symptom-free—this has led it to become the leading cause of blindness in adults over the age of 60. During a vision care exam, your doctor can look into your pupil to see if there are any signs of glaucoma.

How to treat red eyes

The good news is, red eyes usually aren’t cause for concern and tend to go away quickly on their own. Sometimes, the cause can be something as simple as coming into contact with an irritant during the day, like the chlorine from a pool, dust, smoke or perfume.

If your eyes are feeling dry and uncomfortable, artificial tears can help moisten your eyes to temporarily relieve discomfort. If it’s allergies that are bothering you, antihistamines and decongestant drops can help reduce eye itchiness and redness.

If symptoms persist or get worse, you should contact a doctor who can take a comprehensive look at your eyes and offer treatment options. Our Find a Provider tool makes it easy to find an in-network optometrist near you.


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