What causes red eyes and how to avoid them


Optrex - Red Eyes infographic

It can be quite alarming to look in the mirror to see bloodshot eyes looking back at you. Even more so when you have no idea what the cause might be.

This article will aim to give you a greater grasp of what may be causing your eye redness, where the affected areas usually are and what can be done to help prevent it in the future.


What changes take place when an eye has gone red/bloodshot?

Eyes become red or bloodshot as a result of swelling or dilation of the blood vessels within the sclera (the white portion of the eye). 

Often, it is due to a minor eye condition which is usually easily resolvable. If it’s painful or you have recently injured the eye, there may be a more serious problem and you should see a healthcare professional immediately.

Blood vessels in the eye may swell because of a number of factors, including: dryness, allergies, infection or particles becoming trapped in the eye.

A sub-conjunctival hemorrhage is another cause of red eye. As opposed to swollen or dilated blood vessels, this is where a blood vessel in your eye bursts.


Which other parts of the eye can be affected?

There are numerous causes of eye infections with different levels of severity, and many of them occur in different areas of the eye.

Conjunctivitis is by far the most common. In this case the conjunctiva – the thin layer of tissue covering the eyeball – is the infected area.

The cornea is the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris, which itself is the thin, circular part of the eye that dictates how much light reaches the retina by controlling the size of the pupil. 


The main causes of eye redness

As mentioned, more often than not, eye redness will be relatively harmless and will pass quite soon. Many of the main causes of red eye arise from things you may commonly encounter.

The risk of contracting conjunctivitis is not limited to just infections.

People can also suffer from irritant conjunctivitis through an irritant such as dust or chlorine penetrating the eye, or allergic conjunctivitis as a result of an allergic reaction, such as pollen.

When your immune system reacts to an allergen, your body releases histamine into your bloodstream.

This chemical causes the blood vessels in your eyes to enlarge, which can make them red and watery.

Dryness (dry eye) can cause the surface of the eye to become inflamed and irritable, making the eyes appear red.

Dry eye can occur when a person’s tear glands don’t produce enough tears to lubricate the eye, or the tears produced evaporate too quickly.

Too much time spent on a computer can lead to dryness and red eye, as well as wearing contact lenses. Failing to keep lenses sterilised regularly can result in infective microbes entering your eye.

Additionally, puffy or bloodshot eyes can be associated with a cold or flu, while tobacco smoke is yet another potential irritant.


Avoiding eye redness

One of the easiest ways to get an infection into your eyes is via your hands. You are advised to wash your hands on a regular basis and to try to avoid rubbing your eyes, as each time you do, you risk leaving irritants in and around the eye.

Rubbing your eyes too vigorously also runs the risk of damaging the cornea which itself can result in redness.

Regularly washing items that come into close contact with your eyes is also advised - such as pillowcases, bed sheets and towels.

Hygiene is vital for contact lens wearers, as failing to sterilise and replace contact lenses on a regular basis can result in a buildup of bacteria.

Occasionally, it can simply be a case of reducing the particular activity that you believe to be causing the redness. For example, spending less time in front of a computer screen, or taking regular breaks from it to allow your eyes to readjust.

Alternatively, lack of sleep can also result in puffy, red eyes, in which case you may need to consider getting a little more rest.

Also, avoiding known allergens, if possible, can help you too. For example, wraparound sunglasses may offer some protection from pollen.


Treating eye redness

So, we've looked at several different causes of eye redness, and there are various forms of treatment for these. The appropriate treatment depends on what is causing the red eye.

For treatment of eye redness as a result of dry eye, dry eye treatments are available.. If you have an allergy, you can discuss with a healthcare professional the different products available to provide relief for your symptoms.

Resting an ice pack on your eyes helps to reduce symptoms such as swelling and pain, and may alleviate redness, while rinsing your eyes with eye wash can help to irrigate and clear out unwanted substances.

If you're looking for soothing relief from redness of the eye caused by minor eye irritations such as a dusty, smoky atmosphere, eye strain or chlorine, you can find details of Optrex Bloodshot Eye Drops here. For temporary relief of redness of the eye due to minor eye irritations. Hamamelis Virginiana (Distilled Witched Hazel BPC 12.5% v/v) and Naphazoline Hydrochloride 0.01% w/v. Always read the label.

Your pharmacist or optician will always be pleased to give you further advice. If you're ever in any doubt, get it checked as soon as you can. If your eye is red and you are also suffering from pain or other symptoms such as blurry vision, light sensitivity or swelling, you should seek urgent treatment from a professional.