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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Eye redness

Bloodshot eyes; Red eyes; Scleral infection; Conjunctival infection

Last reviewed: August 14, 2012.

Eye redness is due to swollen or dilated blood vessels, which cause the surface of the eye to look red, or bloodshot.

Bloodshot eyes

Considerations

There are many possible causes of a red eye or eyes. Some are cause for concern; some are medical emergencies.  Others are nothing to worry about. 

How red the eye appears is often less of a concern than whether you also have eye pain or difficulty seeing.

Common Causes

Bloodshot eyes appear red because the vessels in the surface of the white portion of the eye (sclera) become swollen. This may result from dry air, too much sun, dust, something in the eye, allergies, infection, or injury.

One common cause of a red eye is straining or coughing. This can lead to a bright red, dense bloody area on the white part of the eye. This is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage. Although this bloody area may appear alarming, it is a fairly common occurrence and of little significance. If you notice a bloody spot in one eye that doesn't hurt, but just looks bad, don't worry. It should clear up on its own within a week or two.

Eye infections or inflammation can occur, causing redness as well as possible itching, discharge, pain, or vision problems:

Other potential causes include:

  • Cold or allergies.
  • Acute glaucoma -- a sudden increase in eye pressure that is extremely painful and causes serious visual disturbances. This is a medical emergency. Most times, glaucoma is chronic and gradual.
  • Corneal scratches caused by sand, dust, or overuse of contacts.

Home Care

For fatigue or eyestrain, try to rest your eyes. No treatment is necessary.

If you have eye pain or a vision problem, call your doctor or nurse.

Call your health care provider if

Go to the hospital or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if:

  • Your eye is red after a penetrating injury.
  • You have a headache along with blurred vision or confusion.
  • You are seeing halos around lights.
  • You have nausea and vomiting.

Call your health care provider if:

  • Your eyes are red longer than 1-2 days.
  • You have eye pain or vision changes.
  • You take blood thinning medication, like warfarin.
  • You may have an object in your eye.
  • You are very sensitive to light.
  • You have a yellow or greenish discharge from one or both eyes.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, including an eye exam, and ask questions about your medical history. Questions may include:

  • Are both of your eyes affected? If only one eye, which one?
  • What part of the eye is affected -- the white part, or elsewhere?
  • Did the redness come on suddenly?
  • Have you ever had eye redness before?
  • Do you have eye pain? Does it get worse after movement of the eyes?
  • Do you have other symptoms like eye discharge, burning, or itching? Nausea or vomiting? A headache?

The eyes may need to be washed out with normal saline solution, and any foreign bodies will need to be removed. Eye drops may be prescribed.

References

  1. Wright JL, Wightman JM. Red and painful eye. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 32.
  2. Rubenstein JB, Virasch V. Conjunctivitis: Infectious and noninfectious. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 4.6.
  3. Yanoff M, Cameron D. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 431.

Review Date: 8/14/2012.

Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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    Thyroid eye disease affects 50% of patients with the autoimmune condition, Graves' disease. Symptoms include eye pain, redness, swelling, protrusion (proptosis), double vision, and in severe cases, reduction in vision. Currently treatment options include steroids and radiotherapy, but relapses are common. Surgery is reserved for severe cases. Rituximab is a medication given by intravenous infusion which has been shown to benefit patients with other autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. This review was designed to investigate whether rituximab is effective and safe as a treatment option for patients with thyroid eye disease. There is a lack of evidence from randomised controlled trials to support the use of rituximab for thyroid eye disease. Rigorous studies looking at patients with active thyroid eye disease, comparing rituximab treatment with either steroids or placebo, need to be conducted in order to answer this question.
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