What is a red eye?

A “red eye” is a general term that is used to describe red, irritated, and bloodshot eyes. The redness happens when tiny blood vessels under the eye’s surface get larger or become inflamed. Usually, it is a reaction to something that is irritating the eye. The condition can affect one or both eyes, and it can develop over time or appear suddenly, such as with allergies or an eye injury.

Red eyes can be accompanied by eye pain, itching, eye discharge, swollen eyes, or changes in vision, such as blurred vision. Many times, though, a red eye looks worse than it feels. Many cases of red eye are relatively harmless and usually improve with home remedies or over-the-counter treatments.

However, if eyes remain red for more than one week, or if vision is affected, or if there is pain, an appointment with an ophthalmologist (eye doctor), should be made for a medical diagnosis and proper treatment.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/22/2018.

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