Bloodshot Eyes

1 Bloodshot eyes summary

Bloodshot eyes (or red eyes) appear due to expansion of the eye’s blood vessels, causing redness in one or both eyes. The redness can range from bright to complete redness that covers the whole eye, or it can manifest as lines or dots. Depending on the cause, it can be a simple cosmetic problem or a sign of serious illness. In most cases, bloodshot eyes are just a temporary issue, usually without any pain, and takes a day or two to go away and the eye to clear up. But if you are suffering from additional symptoms like pain or discharge, you should see your doctor immediately; if you do not, it can cause permanent damage to the eyes. If an infection is present, it can spread outside the eyes, you can transfer it to other people if contagious, you can end up with scarring, or, in the worst case, you can lose your vision or even an eye.

Bloodshot eyes can be accompanied by many symptoms like eye pain, burning sensation, itchy eyes or eyelids, thick or watery discharge, swollen eyelids, light sensitivity, watery eyes, crusting of the eyelid, blurry vision, and eyelashes falling out.

Some people experience red eyes in the morning or after showering. Red eyes in the morning can be caused by various things, like dry eye, if the eyes are not lubricating during sleep or blepharitis, where oil glands are clogged. But in most cases, the cause is simple, like eyelids not closing completely during sleep, irritants in the environment, or things you do during the day, like walking in the wind or too much sun exposure. It can be also caused by a cold or allergy, or a dirty pillowcase.

2 Bloodshot eyes and alcohol

Alcohol can also be the cause of bloodshot eyes because it increases blood circulation; with increased blood circulation, the blood vessels in the eyes dilate, which is why the eyes become red after drinking. However, some people handle alcohol better than others and don’t have this problem.

Also, there is a bizarre trend among young people that consists of pouring alcohol directly into the eyes. This can cause irritation and redness, so we strongly recommend that you don’t pour alcohol in your eyes.

Generally, besides bloodshot eyes, alcohol can also cause blurry or double vision. The good thing is that these side effects are gone as soon as you sober up. If you enjoy alcohol, keep in mind that you should not drink on an empty stomach, drink water between sips, consume no more than one drink per hour, and know your limit and do not cross it. 

3 Causes of bloodshot eyes

The causes and severity of bloodshot eyes can vary. The most common causes are:

  • Eye injury: Eye injuries are almost always followed by red eyes because it is a natural way of speeding the recovery process. Minor scratches, deep wounds, chemical burns, and cosmetic eyelid injury can all cause bloodshot eyes. No matter what the injury, you should always treat it as an emergency and go to the hospital right away.
  • Corneal ulcer: This is an infection of the cornea caused by untreated trauma or an infection of the eye. It includes pain, discharge, and reduced vision.
  • Conjunctivitis: This is a contagious infection of the sclera that manifests as irritation and swelling of the blood vessels, which makes the eye red or pink.
  • Uveitis: This is inflammation of the uvea and is characterized by sensitivity and blurry vision. As with corneal ulcers, it is caused by eye injury, infection, or even an autoimmune disorder. If not treated in time, it can cause loss of vision.
  • Ocular herpes: Besides redness of the eye, this condition is accompanied by swelling, pain, discharge, and sensitivity. The infection is caused by the type 1 herpes simplex virus. If not treated, it can cause corneal scars.
  • Glaucoma: Usually, this is not followed by symptoms, but they can occur suddenly and include pain, redness, vision loss, and nausea.
  • Swimming: Most people who go swimming have red eyes. That happens usually because a lot of chlorine is poured into pools and it irritates the eyes. But other people’s sweat, urine, and other bodily grime blend with the water and get into your eyes, irritating them, so wear goggles to avoid this.
  • Lack of sleep: Lack of sleep causes redness in the eyes and can be accompanied by a pale face and dark circles. So, make sure to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Allergy: Allergies can have many symptoms, but redness of the eyes is most often present. Your body releases histamine as a way of fighting the substance you are allergic to, and this enlarges blood vessels in the eyes, which is why they become red and watery. Not all red eyes caused by allergies must be treated by a doctor, but you should know your allergens and avoid them or take medicine for them.
  • Dry eyes syndrome: This occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears to lubricate themselves. If the condition becomes chronic, it can irritate the surface of the eye, making it red. Visit your doctor to get the treatment that suits your condition, whether it be eye drops or something else.
  • Whitening eye drops: Whitening eye drops shrink the blood vessels in the eyes and, if used for long periods of time or if overused, can cause even more damage and increase redness.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect your eyes in many ways. They may become red and bloodshot, as well as dry, itchy and sensitive to light. The good news is that this usually passes after childbirth.
  • Cold or flu: Bloodshot eyes are a common symptom of a cold or flu, caused by a sinus infection. They disappear when the condition passes.
  • Contact lenses: If you are new to wearing contacts, you will likely experience redness and irritation in the eyes. Besides light irritation, redness while wearing contact lenses can mean a serious eye infection, so visit your doctor and make sure to follow their advice.
  • Computer vision syndrome: This is a common side effect of staring at a screen for too long. It happens because your eyes become dry from not blinking enough when looking at the screen.
  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes can cause redness, itchiness, and dryness of the eyes because the smoke irritates them. Smoking marijuana can also cause redness through dilation of blood vessels, which results in redness for a couple of hours.
  • Showering: Showering is a common cause of redness in the eyes, resulting from inadequate water temperature and hygiene products. The water temperature can cause redness if it is warmer than the body temperature, as this causes blood vessels to expand, which can be reflected in your eyes. Also, different kinds of products used for a shower, like shower gels and shampoos, can get into your eyes and cause redness.
  • Environment: Temporary redness can be caused by smoke, the sun, dry air, etc. The cure is to simply wear protective eyewear.
  • Stress: Stress cannot affect bloodshot vessels directly, but it can result in a lack of sleep, which causes bloodshot eyes if it persists.
  • Crying: Crying can also cause temporary redness, but it passes quickly after you stop.

4 How to get rid of bloodshot eyes

If you have bloodshot eyes, especially if it includes pain, discharge, swelling, or blurry vision, you should contact your doctor right away. Treatment depends on the cause of the bloodshot eyes and can range from simply removing contact lenses (if you wear them), rest, and cool compress, to eye drops, antibiotics, and surgery.

There are some things you can do to prevent bloodshot eyes, like not rubbing them, maintaining good contact lens hygiene, avoiding your allergies, resting from the computer screen every now and then, visiting your eye doctor for prevention, avoiding overuse of eye drops, avoiding make-up, changing pillowcases, etc. If you already have bloodshot eyes, there are some short-term solutions you can apply until you visit the doctor. First, try a warm compress by soaking a towel in warm water. If this doesn’t work, you can try a cold compress by soaking a towel in cold water. You can use artificial tears to lubricate the eyes if dryness is causing them to be red. You can also try resting your eyes for a while or getting a good night’s sleep. Be sure to stay away from people who have conjunctivitis as it’s highly contagious; change contacts according to your doctor’s directions; and make sure you eat properly and stay hydrated.

You should visit the doctor immediately if you have a headache with blurred vision, are vomiting, have nausea, had a penetrating injury, experience pain and discharge, have an object in your eye, your eyes are red for more than day or two, or you have sudden changes in vision.

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