Red Eye

Your eye can become red because of irritation or injury. You can treat some cases of eye redness with home remedies, but others require medical help. If you have pain, fever, blurred vision, discharge or other symptoms along with your red eye, an eye care provider can treat you.


What is a red eye?

A “red eye” is a general term to describe red, irritated and bloodshot eyes. The redness happens when tiny blood vessels under your eye’s surface get larger or become inflamed. Usually, it’s a reaction to something irritating your eye.

Redness can affect one or both eyes. It can develop over time or appear suddenly, such as with allergies or an eye injury.

You can have red eyes and other symptoms, like:

  • Eye pain.
  • Itching.
  • Eye discharge.
  • Swollen eyes.
  • Changes in vision, like blurred vision.

Are there stages or different severity levels of red eyes?

Often, a red eye looks worse than it feels. Many cases of eye redness are relatively harmless and usually improve with home remedies or over-the-counter treatments.

But if your eye or eyes remain red for longer than one week, or if you have pain or vision problems, make an appointment with an eye care provider, perhaps with an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) or an optometrist. In some cases, a red eye can be serious if it’s a symptom of another disease.


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Possible Causes

What are the most common causes of a red eye?

Red eyes have many different causes. Sometimes, your eyes get red when you’ve worn your contact lenses too long or if you’ve been staring at your computer screen for too long without a break. Some other common causes include:

What does a red eye look and feel like?

Sometimes, your eye is red where it should be white. This might happen if the blood vessels inside your eye swell when they become irritated. In some cases, a tiny blood vessel might break open.

If your eye becomes red from an injury, the blood vessels in your eye dilate (open) to allow more blood to get to the site for quicker healing. These wide-open blood vessels are what cause the red eye.

Depending on what’s going on, your red eye can feel:

  • Completely normal. In this case, you don’t know it’s red till you see it.
  • Itchy or irritated, like something is in your eye.
  • Tender.
  • Very watery or very dry.
  • Goopy or crusty, especially if there’s pus from an infection.

Care and Treatment

What are the treatments for red eye?

Remedies for red eye are wide-ranging, and often they’re things you can do at home for yourself.

Many times, the following steps can relieve symptoms:

  • Rest.
  • Cool compresses over closed eyes.
  • Lightly massaging your eyelids.
  • Gently washing your eyelids.
  • Over-the-counter eye drops.

Other times, an eye care specialist may recommend and prescribe antibiotics, special eye drops or ointments.

What are the possible complications or risks of not treating red eye?

In many cases, red eyes aren’t dangerous and may not even need treatment. However, there are conditions that cause red eyes that can be more serious.

If your eye redness lasts longer than a day or two, or if your young child has red eyes, you should contact your healthcare provider. Also, contact your provider if you have eye pain or discharge.

If your red eye is a sign that you have a more serious condition than just irritation, not treating it could lead to vision loss.


How can red eye be prevented?

You can’t prevent every case of red eye, but you may be able to reduce your risk of developing eye redness with these suggestions:

  • Don't rub your eyes. Dirt and germs on your hands and fingers can cause even more redness and irritation.
  • Keep your contact lenses clean, and don’t wear them longer than recommended.
  • Remove your eye makeup properly, and keep your eyes clean.
  • Take regular breaks when you’re looking at the computer screen for a long time.
  • Avoid things that you know irritate your eyes, like dust, smoke or pet dander.
  • Use a dehumidifier in your house to prevent dampness and mold from developing.
  • Practice good hand-washing techniques to help you avoid many types of infections.

Schedule an eye exam if you have eye redness often or if you have redness that doesn’t go away.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call a healthcare provider about red eye?

Although red eye usually goes away on its own, redness of the eye can sometimes signal a more serious eye condition or disease. Contact an ophthalmologist for diagnosis and treatment if:

  • Your eyes feel tender.
  • Your vision is affected.
  • Your eyes become extra sensitive to light.
  • You have symptoms that continue for a week or more, or are getting worse and not better.
  • Your eye is producing a lot of pus or mucus that dries into crusts.
  • You have a fever or aches along with eye discomfort.

Make an appointment with your eye care provider to get treatment immediately if you have red eye AND any of these other symptoms:

  • Eye pain.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Swelling.
  • Blurry vision.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Almost everyone will have some experience with red eyes in their lives. In most cases, red eyes aren’t serious. They happen when your eyes are irritated and go away when the irritation passes. But there are times when you should get your eyes checked, such as when you have pain or problems with your vision. It’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider when you’re not sure about an issue with your eyes.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/23/2023.

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