Almost everyone experiences red eye at some point in their lives. It is a common condition that is easily treatable but can cause more severe problems if it is ignored. For that reason, visiting your eye doctor when you experience red eye is a good idea. He or she can help identify the exact cause of your red eye and prescribe the ideal treatment to fix it. Oftentimes, people don’t think of going to the eye doctor for anything other than a routine annual eye exam. However, the eye doctor is a great resource for treating any type of eye infection or red eye. They can prescribe you the medications needed to fix the condition and ensure that your eyes remain healthy for the long-term.

What Is Red Eye?

Red eye gets its name from the very obvious visible signs that come with it. However, red eye can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions. In most cases, red eye refers to a time when the whites of the eyes appear red or pink due to changes in the membrane covering the front of the eye. This membrane is known as the conjunctiva (hence the condition conjunctivitis, or pink eye). The conjunctiva covers and protects the front of your eye and also lines the eyelids. Tiny blood vessels in this membrane can dilate when irritated or infected, causing the eye to take on a reddish or pink appearance.

What Causes Red Eye?

Although they generally get grouped under the umbrella term of red eye, many different things can cause the condition. Some are more common and easily treated while others are rarer and need immediate treatment by a professional. Since they look very similar, the exact cause of red eye should be diagnosed by an eye doctor. Below are the most common causes of red eye:


Otherwise known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is a very common and very contagious eye infection. It is more common in school children, but adults can also get it. Conjunctivitis is an infection of the conjunctiva that covers the eye. When it becomes infected, the blood vessels become irritated and give the entire eye and eyelid a pink appearance. You should consult an eye doctor for treatment of conjunctivitis.


When your body comes into contact with foreign substances like pollen or chemicals in a contact lens solution, it releases a chemical called histamine. This causes an allergic reaction, including the enlargement of the eye’s blood vessels. Allergies are known to make your eyes red and itchy as well as causing them to be watery.

Dry eye:

This occurs when your eyes’ tear glands don’t produce enough tears to lubricate your eyes. Chronic dry eye leaves the surface of the eye scratchy, inflamed, and irritated. This prolonged irritation makes your eyes look red. An eye doctor can prescribe special drops or treatments to help manage dry eyes.

Contact lenses:

Although they help us see, contact lenses can also cause red eye. Improper care and cleaning of contact lenses causes a build-up of irritating substances on the surface that disrupt and inflame your eye. However, red eyes while wearing contacts can point to a more serious eye infection. For example, keratitis or a fungal eye infection. If you notice red eye while wearing contacts you should remove them immediately and consult with your eye doctor.

Prolonged computer use:

Believe it or not, staring at your computer – or any screen – for too long can cause red eye. This increased eye strain is due to less blinking and the tiring of the tiny muscles in your eyes. This can cause the blood vessels in your eyes to dilate and give you a “bloodshot” appearance.

Eye trauma:

Any form of trauma to the eye can result in red eye. These can range from minor scratches (corneal abrasions) to chemical burns. Eye injuries should always be treated as medical emergencies and you should visit your eye doctor immediately for treatment.

Less Common Causes Of Red Eye

Sometimes, red eye can be caused by something more serious than the causes lifted above. Red eye could be a sign of a corneal ulcer, ocular herpes, uveitis, or smoking. Glaucoma is also associated with red eye. This is a condition where the pressure inside the eye is higher than normal and can lead to blindness if left untreated. It is generally a gradual disease, but sudden red eye can be a sign of acute glaucoma. If you notice red eye that is accompanied by halos around lights or vision loss, consult with your eye doctor immediately. Since it is difficult to identify what is causing your red eye by yourself, you should visit your eye doctor if red eye occurs.

How To Treat Red Eye

When your red eye first appears, you may want to try treating the discomfort or embarrassing discoloration on your own. Although you won’t be able to cure the condition if it is due to an infection or injury, you may be able to ease the discomfort if your red eye is due to irritation. Rest and a cool compress over your eyes can help ease itching and a scratchy feeling. This is especially important if your red eye is due to allergies or eye strain. Removing your contact lenses or avoiding wearing them also helps. Finally, artificial tear eye drops may help lessen some itching and discomfort until you can consult with your eye doctor. Although these at-home treatments may help temporarily, you should still visit your eye doctor to get professional treatment for your red eye.

When To Visit The Eye Doctor Because Of Red Eye

If your red eye lasts for more than 24-48 hours you should consider it a serious condition and visit your eye doctor. In addition, if you cannot think of a reason for a sudden case of red eye, you should consult with an eye doctor. They will perform a thorough eye exam and determine what is causing your red eye for certain. Depending on what the cause is, they will prescribe you with medication or perform treatment to treat any type of red eye. Your eye doctor is a great resource and should be consulted next time you are suffering from a case of red eye.