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woman with bright eyes

What are red eyes? Symptoms & causes

30 Sep 2021 • 2 min read

Ever taken a red eye?

The red eye flight is an overnight flight that lands at its destination in the early morning and is nicknamed as such due to the fact that passengers tend to have red eyes once they arrive.

But taking a night flight is not the only reason you could have red eyes, there are actually lots of reasons.

Here, we’ll explore some of the causes of red eyes, as well as how to identify them, treat them, and when you should see a doctor.

What is red eye?

Red eyes occur when irritation or infection causes the tiny blood vessels in your eyes to expand.

It can happen in one or both eyes, and is normally caused by one or more of the following conditions.

11 causes of red eyes

  1. Allergies

Your red eyes could be triggered by outdoor influences such as pollen, grasses and trees.

Allergies can also occur from outdoor effects such as pet fur, dust or mold.

In these instances your eyes may also suffer from:

  • Itchiness
  • Burning sensation
  • Tearing or watery eye

You may also experience nasal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and a stuffy nose.

  1. Dry eye

It may be that your tear ducts are underactive and your tears don’t have the consistency they should.

Sometimes your eyes are unable to produce tears at all.

Dry eye can be painful and in more serious circumstances can cause ulcers on your cornea, and in severe cases can cause vision loss.

You may also experience the following:

  • A gritty feeling
  • A burning feeling
  • Blurry vision
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Not being able to cry
  • Eye fatigue
  • Excess tears, at times when your eyes aren’t dry
  • A stringy discharge
  • Discomfort with contact lenses
  1. Conjunctivitis

This infection is also known as ‘pink eye’ and affects the clear layer that protects the eye.

The whites of your eye may become inflamed.

This could be because of a virus or bacteria. It’s very common, particularly in children, it’s usually very contagious.

If this is something you or your children have, then you should contact your doctor for further advice.

  1. Broken blood vessels

Broken blood vessels occur when tiny blood vessels break beneath the surface of your eye.

Blood gets trapped, which makes the white of your eye turn bright red.

This can be bought on for a number of reasons, which include:

  • Sneezing
  • Heavy lifting
  • Vomiting
  • Rubbing your eyes

Broken blood vessels often look at lot worse than they are.

They don’t usually cause any pain and are or often more likely to occur when you are taking blood thinning medication.

  1. Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 60.

The condition is when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye.

This may cause pressure and in some circumstances can damage the optic nerve, however, it’s usually painless.

Glaucoma can cause symptoms such as:

  • Severe pain in your eye
  • A headache
  • Decreased or blurred vision
  • Rainbows or halos in your vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  1. Swimming

It’s common for the chlorine found in swimming pools to cause irritation around the eye, which can cause them to go red.

  1. Smoking

If you are a smoker, the smoke from smoking can release toxins into the eye, which can cause irritation.

  1. Sleep deprivation

Not getting enough sleep can cause your eyes to become dry and red.

Try and make sure that you get into a good sleeping routine of around 8 hours a day.

  1. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can cause dehydration, which can your eyes to become dry and red.

To avoid red eye you should try and stay within the recommended 14 units of alcohol per week for men and women.

  1. Pregnancy

The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can cause the decreased production of tears, which can cause the eyes to dry out and cause redness.

  1. Contact lenses and eye drops

If not cleaned properly, contact lenses can cause dry eyes and make them red.

Can you get rid of red eye?

It is possible to get rid of red eye, but it often depends on the cause as to what the right solution might be.

Below you will find some home remedies to try if your red eye is causing you some discomfort.

Home remedies to get rid of red eyes

If the cause for your red eyes is not serious, there are a range of home remedies you could try to get them back to normal.

  1. A cold compress

To make a cold compress, simply soak a cloth in ice water before twisting off any excess liquid.

Close your eyes and press the cold compress over your closed eyes for five to 10 minutes, a few times a day. This can allow your eyes to create more lubrication.

  1. A warm compress

Simply soak a cloth in warm water (make sure it’s not too hot) and place over closed eyes for a few minutes.

This may stimulate the production of tears, which will lubricate your eyes and could get rid of the redness.

  1. Eye drops

As red eyes are often caused by dryness, eye drops are often the key to treating them at home.

Insert your eye drops every hour for the first six hours, then six times per day for the rest of the week.

  1. Changing contact lenses

If you are a regular wearer of contact lenses and experiencing eye redness, it may be that changing your contact lenses can help

This could be a recent change in lenses or lenses that you have had for a while.

Speak to your optician to find out if you can change them to relieve the irritation.

  1. Stay hydrated

Drinking enough water and staying hydrated can be crucial to avoiding eye soreness.

Generally, it is recommended that you drink around eight glasses of water a day to maintain fluid levels.

  1. Look at your environment

Being surrounded by triggers such as pollen or smoke can bring on eye redness.

Dry air and humidity can also have an effect so it’s wise to avoid situations that might make it worse.

When you should visit a doctor

If you have red eyes, the good news is that it’s not usually serious.

However, if you experience any of the following, we recommend talking to your GP:

  • Loss of vision
  • A recent head and/or eye injury
  • Eye surgery in the last 12 months
  • Chronic pain
  • Yellow or green crust or mucus around the eye
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 30 September 2021



Author: Bhupesh PanchalSenior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

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