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Alternative Names Return to topBloodshot eyes; Red eyes; Scleral injection; Conjunctival injection
Definition Return to topRed eyes are caused by enlarged, dilated blood vessels, leading to the appearance of redness on the surface of the eye.
Considerations Return to top
There are many possible causes of a red eye or eyes. Some are cause for concern; some are medical emergencies. Others are of no consequence or concern at all. The degree of redness or appearance of blood usually does not correlate to how serious the situation is. It is generally more important whether you also have eye pain or impaired vision.
Causes Return to top
Bloodshot eyes appear red because the vessels in the surface of the white portion of the eye (sclera) become enlarged and irritated. This may result from extremely dry air, sun exposure, dust, foreign body, an allergic reaction, infection, trauma, or other conditions.
One common cause of a red eye is straining or coughing. This can lead to a bright red, uniformly dense bloody area on the sclera. 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 blotch in one eye that doesn't hurt, but just looks bad, don't worry. It generally clears up on its own within a week or two.
Eye infections or inflammation can occur in different locations. They cause redness as well as possible itching, discharge, pain, or vision problems:
Other potential causes include:
Home Care Return to top
For fatigue or eyestrain, try to rest your eyes. No treatment is necessary.
If you have conjunctivitis:
If you have blepharitis:
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Go to the hospital or call 911 if:
Call your doctor if:
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
Your doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical examination, which will include a detailed eye exam.
To help diagnose the cause of the problem, your doctor will ask medical history questions, such as:
The eyes may need irrigation with normal saline solution, and any foreign bodies will need to be removed. Eye drops may be prescribed.
Prevention Return to top
To prevent conjunctivitis:
References Return to top
Greenberg MF. The red eye in childhood. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2003;50(1):105-124.
Wirbelauer C. Management of the red eye for the primary care. Am J Med. 2006;119:302-306.
Mueller JB, McStay CM. Ocular infection and inflammation. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2008;26:57-72.
Rodriguez JO. Prevention and treatment of common eye injuries in sports. Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(7):1481-1488.
Rubenstein JB, Jick SL. Disorders of the conjunctiva and limbus. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, Augsburger JJ, et al, eds. Ophthalmology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2004:chap 55.Update Date: 11/10/2008 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.