Bloodshot eyes can be a sign of many things from dry eyes, too little sleep, or even overdoing it on certain eye drops, but whatever the reason, red eyes can spark a lot of questions from people wondering if you’re sick, upset, or with a hangover.
When your eyes are dry, they become irritated and inflamed. It’s the inflammation that causes the redness. Dry eye is more common in adults over 50, but it often affects younger people who spend a lot of time staring at computer or cell phone screens. You don’t blink as much when you look at screens, which cause dryness. Artificial tears can moisten your eyes, which reduces inflammation and eases the redness.
To keep the problem from coming back, try to blink more when you’re at your computer. You can also try the 20-20-20 rule to help reset your blinks and reduce the dry-eye issues caused by staring at your computer: Every 20 minutes you’re in front of a screen, focus on something 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds. If that doesn’t help, you could have chronic dry eye, so see your doctor.
Allergens like pollen and grass can cause swelling and inflammation in your eyes, which can lead to redness. Because allergies also tend to make your eyes itchy, you end up rubbing them, which creates even more inflammation and redness. Other symptoms include itchiness, sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes.
To fix it, ease the redness and inflammation by applying cold compresses to your eyes for 15 minutes several times a day. Then, talk with your primary care doctor to figure out the best way to keep your allergies under control. He or she might recommend antihistamines, which decrease your body’s response to allergens and ease inflammation. But because antihistamines make your eyes dry, you might also have to use artificial tears to prevent dryness and redness.
Antihistamines aren’t the only medications that can potentially dry out your eyes and leave them red. Sleeping pills, anti-anxiety meds, and even pain relievers like ibuprofen can also cause dryness and redness.
These medications can reduce blood flow to tissue in and around your eye, making it dry and red. Get quick relief from the dryness—and redness—with artificial tears. But for longer-term relief, talk with the doctor who prescribed your medication. He or she may be able to adjust your dose, or offer an alternative prescription with fewer side effects.
Not getting enough sleep
Whether you stayed up late watching Netflix or spent half the night tossing and turning, your eyes will probably look a little bloodshot in the morning. The eyes need to be closed for an extended period of time for your tear layers to regenerate and replenish. And loss of tears leads to redness.
The eyes’ muscles need to recharge overnight. If they don’t get enough rest, you’ll have a harder time focusing on things both close up and far off. To fix it, artificial tears can help you re-moisturize your parched tear layers. Getting the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep can keep the dryness from coming back.
Too much alcohol
Alcohol causes your blood vessels to relax. That allows more blood to flow through the vessels in your eyes, so they look redder. Other symptoms include headache, dehydration, nausea, and feeling like garbage overall. Use an over-the-counter eye whitening drop. It works by constricting blood vessels, which reduces blood flow to your eyes so they look less red. It’ll ease the redness within 15 minutes or so.
Cigarette smoke causes the blood vessels in your eyes to constrict, which dries out the surface of your eyes. When your body senses the dryness and lack of blood flow, it tries to compensate by dilating your blood vessels. And that means more redness. In the long-term, the blood vessel constricting-effects of smoking (or exposure to secondhand smoke) can raise your risk for macular degeneration and cataracts—which can cause vision loss and even blindness. If you smoke, take steps to quit. If not, seek fresh air. Your eyes should clear in about an hour.
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a viral or bacterial infection that can strike in one or both eyes. It’s highly contagious, so it’s easy to spread from one eye to the other by just rubbing your eyes. The infection causes inflammation in and around your eye, which makes it look red and swollen.