Whether from staying up all night hanging out with friends or an upset baby, staring at a computer screen all day, or from allergies, we’ve all had to deal with red eyes at some point. The tired, burning feeling makes our whole bodies feel exhausted, and going out in public with red eyes is almost out of the question. While there are some medications like eye drops that can help clear red eyes, and many times getting a good night’s sleep does the trick, sometimes the whites of the eyes remain red for days.

If you’re experiencing red eyes and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better, it’s important to determine the underlying cause before turning to self-medication and using eye drops that won’t help. Below are a few common causes of red, bloodshot eyes, which can give you a better idea of what may be happening with your eyes. However, if your eyes have been red for three or more days without any signs of the redness going away, it’s best to schedule an appointment with an optometrist who can complete a comprehensive eye exam.

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8 Common Causes of Red, Bloodshot Eyes

Uveitis

The uvea is the middle layer of tissue in the eye wall. Uveitis, although rare, is a form of eye inflammation, and symptoms can occur suddenly. The inflammation can be caused by a variety of issues, such as an infection, injury, or an autoimmune or inflammatory disease. Symptoms include red eyes, pain in the eye, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and floaters. An optometrist can treat uveitis with steroids, or if the underlying issue can be found, that will be treated as well.

Contact Lenses

If you’re a contact lens wearer, you are probably familiar with what it can feel like when contact lenses have been worn for too long, they fit poorly, if the lens is scratched, or if the lens was dirty when it was put into the eye. If redness is occurring due to poor hygiene, the redness may go away on its own after properly cleaning the lenses, properly storing them, and using them as directed. If redness is due to a scratched lens or ones that don’t fit properly, you will need to schedule an exam with an eye doctor. If redness does not go away, see a doctor right away, as a bacterial infection may have developed.

Smoking

Among the dozens of reasons to quit smoking is eye redness and irritation. Cigarettes contain various dangerous chemicals including formaldehyde, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. Cigarette smoke is very close to the eye, which can irritate the membranes of the eye, causing inflammation and bloodshot eyes. Smoking also increases the risk of developing cataracts.

Injury

Our eyes are sensitive organs, so it doesn’t always take a lot to injure them. Small things like getting dust in the eye, putting on mascara, or even rubbing them too hard can put strain on the eyes. More severe injuries like a trauma playing sports, debris flying into the eye in the workshop, or scratching the eye with a sharp fingernail can lead to a variety of issues. After an injury, extra blood is sent to the eye through blood vessels in order to heal the injury. If redness persists, visit an optometrist to ensure severe damage wasn’t caused.

Conjunctivitis

More commonly known as “pink eye,” this is a form of inflammation that can be caused by several issues, such as allergies, bacteria, viruses, or toxic substances. Conjunctivitis affects the protective layer that coats the front of the eye, and the biggest symptom is often a crust that develops over the lashes as the protective layer discharges and dries. While it’s not serious, it’s a good idea to visit an optometrist to ensure the inflammation doesn’t get worse.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Extended periods of staring at a screen can cause our eyes to dry out and become irritated. Blinking is an effective way to keep the eyes moist, protecting them from drying out. However, people don’t blink as often when they’re in front of a computer. To avoid red eyes from computer vision syndrome, give your eyes a rest every hour, make an effort to blink more, drink plenty of water, and get a recommendation for an eye drop from your eye doctor.

Frequent Use of Eye Drops

Eye drops can be great at relieving red eyes in many circumstances, but overuse of eye drops can lead to problems as well. If you chronically use eye drops to relieve red eyes, your eyes may actually get worse, causing a “rebounding” effect. Eye drops work by reducing the swelling of blood vessels in the eye, but this can also mean the sclera isn’t getting enough oxygen and nutrients. When the medication wears off, the eyes work extra hard to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the eyes, causing redness to develop again. Consult with an optometrist if you’re finding you need to use eye drops daily or multiple times a day.

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma

There are two types of glaucoma: acute angle-closure and closed-angle glaucoma. Acute-closure glaucoma is a medical emergency that needs to be treated as quickly as possible. It’s a build-up of pressure in the eye and can cause sudden blurry vision, severe pain, headache, and nausea. Learn more about the two types of glaucoma here.

Red, bloodshot eyes can occur for various reasons, some more serious than others. And self-medicating with eye drops or waiting and hoping it goes away may only cause it to get worse. If you’re struggling with red eyes, schedule an appointment with an optometrist right away.

Spectrum Eye Care is located in Colorado Springs, and we are committed to providing our patients with the very best service. We offer same-day appointments to make getting an eye exam and the treatment you need easy. Call us today!