Why Are My Eyes Red?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on April 04, 2022
5 min read

Red eyes happen when the tiny blood vessels on the surface of the whites of your eyes expand, turning the whites of one or both eyes a pink or reddish tint.

A number of things can make your eyes red. Some of the most common causes are:


Outdoor triggers include pollen from grasses and trees. Indoor ones include pet dander, dust, and mold. In these cases, your eyes may also:

  • Itch
  • Burn
  • Tear up

You could also have nasal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and a stuffy nose.

Dry eye

Sometimes, your tears don’t have the texture they should. They might evaporate too fast. And sometimes, your eye can’t make tears at all. This condition is called dry eye. It can cause pain, ulcers on your cornea, or, in rare cases, some vision loss.

Other symptoms of dry eye include:

  • 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


Also known as conjunctivitis, pinkeye is when the lining of your eyelid and the white of your eye become inflamed. It might happen because of a virus or bacteria. It’s very common, especially among children, and is usually very contagious. If you think you have pinkeye, see your doctor, wash your hands often, and don’t rub your eyes.

Other symptoms include:

  • More tears than usual
  • Eyes that burn, itch, or feel gritty
  • A white, yellow, or green discharge from your eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • A crust on your eyelid or eyelashes

Broken blood vessels

This happens when tiny blood vessels break beneath the surface of your eye. The blood is trapped and makes the white of your eye turn bright red. It can be caused by a strong sneeze, heavy lifting, hard vomiting, or rubbing your eye a little too hard. You may be more likely to have broken blood vessels if you take blood-thinning medication, even a baby aspirin. Broken blood vessels can look scary but are generally harmless. There’s usually no pain.

Broken blood vessels cause other symptoms like:

  • A bright red area on your eye along with the general redness
  • A scratchy feeling


Fluid can build up in the front part of your eye. This causes pressure and can damage your optic nerve. The condition is called glaucoma. It’s the leading cause of blindness for people 60 and over.

Glaucoma is usually painless. An unusual form of acute 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


Episcleritis is an inflammation of the episclera, a thin layer of clear tissue on top of the white part of your eye, or sclera. This is the layer between the thin “skin” of the eye and the tough wall of the eyeball.

When the tiny blood vessels in the episclera get irritated or inflamed, they make your eye look red or bloodshot. It usually happens in just one eye but can affect both.

Though the redness may look like conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, there’s no goopy discharge.

There are two types:

Simple: This is the most common. It has two subtypes:

  • Sectoral. The redness appears over part of your eye.
  • Diffuse. The redness appears over all of it.

Nodular: This is when a tiny bump (or nodule) forms on your eye. This kind tends to cause more discomfort.

Other causes

Other causes of red eyes include things in the world around you, such as:

  • Chlorine from swimming pools
  • Dust
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfume

Also, eye conditions like:

  • A scratch, infection, or ulcer on your cornea
  • Cornea inflammation (keratitis)
  • Inflammation of the colored part of your eye (iritis), the middle layer of your eye (uveitis), the white part of your eye (scleritis), or the membrane covering the white part of your eye (episcleritis)
  • Complications from eye surgery or contact lens use

Over-the-counter eyedrops that target redness can actually make the problem worse. Your eyes might come to depend on the drops and be even redder after they wear off. They can also dry out your eyes and hide symptoms of health problems.

Red eyes are usually nothing to worry about, as long as they don’t happen often and don’t last long. There are home remedies that can help relieve your symptoms, such as rest, cool compresses, gently washing your eyelids, or lightly massaging them. You might find brief relief in over-the-counter artificial tears that wash and moisten your eyes.

Decongestants and antihistamines can help with itchiness and redness because of allergies. They can sometimes make your eyes feel dry, though, so you should try to also use a lubricating artificial teardrop. If you have a bacterial infection, you might need to take antibiotics.

Call your doctor if you have red eyes along with:

  • A sudden change in vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sudden halos around lights
  • A severe headache, eye pain, or fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Something in your eye
  • Swelling
  • Not being able to keep the eye open

How to Treat Episcleritis

Usually, simple episcleritis will clear up on its own in a week to 10 days. An eye doctor can give or prescribe lubricating eyedrops to soothe the irritation and redness. They also may prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (or NSAID), such as ibuprofen. It can come in pill form or as a cream you apply to your eyes. In more severe or painful cases, the doctor may prescribe a mild steroid eyedrop. 

At home, cold compresses can help relieve irritation. The nodular type also should clear up on its own, but it may take a little longer and might cause a little more discomfort.

If it keeps coming back, your eye doctor may order bloodwork or other lab tests to check for other medical issues.

Show Sources


American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Types of Allergies: Eye Allergy.”

National Eye Institute: “Facts About Dry Eye.”

CDC: “Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat.”

Mayo Clinic: “Subconjunctival hemorrhage (broken blood vessel in eye),” “Symptoms: Red Eye.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “What Is Glaucoma?” “Over-the-Counter Solutions for Bloodshot Eyes.”

Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials: “Why Are My Eyes Always Red?”

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