Potential Causes of Red Eyes

There are many reasons your eyes may turn red, and most of them represent no cause for concern. Often, it’s merely part of a natural biological process that just needs to run its course. However, familiarizing yourself with the various causes of red eye will help you know when to wait it out, when to treat it yourself, and when to be concerned.

The Many Causes of Eye InfectionsAllergies

Outdoors, irritants from air pollution and plant pollen can irritate your eyes and make them itchy and red. Indoors, the same things can happen due to pet dander, dust, mold, and perfume. When allergens enter your eyes, your immune system releases histamine to combat them. Histamine, in turn, makes the blood vessels in your eyes expand, giving them that red appearance. You can be reasonably certain that allergies are the cause of your red eyes if nasal allergy symptoms, like sneezing and stuffy nose, start up around the same time your eyes turn red. However, red eyes may be the only difference you notice. Antihistamine medication is often enough to take care of these allergy symptoms.

Chronic Dry Eye

Another reason your eyes might often appear red is chronic dry eye. Dry eye itself can have a few different causes, and it can be difficult to pinpoint in some cases. Among the possible culprits are poor quality tears, insufficient tears, and structural problems with the eye itself. Symptoms include a gritty feeling, burning sensation, and/or stringy discharge. Chronic dry eye can lead to serious problems, so if you often have trouble producing tears when you cry or are producing oddly inconsistent amounts of tears, make an appointment with your ophthalmologist as soon as possible.


Conjunctivitis or “pinkeye” describes inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the clear, thin tissue that lines the inner part of the eyelid. Pinkeye is extremely common and contagious, but it rarely leads to serious problems. It can be caused by a virus, infection, allergen(s), or chemical(s) entering your eye(s). Symptoms include burning, itching, light sensitivity, excessive tears, or the presence of a crusty substance or white, yellow, or green discharge. Some of these may also indicate various other eye infections. Pinkeye’s symptoms overlap with other eye problems that could be more serious, so make sure you receive confirmation on a diagnosis and treat any of these symptoms right away.

Burst Blood Vessel

Sometimes, an especially intense strain from powerful coughing or sneezing, heavy lifting, or forceful vomiting can cause one or more blood vessels to break just beneath the surface of the eye. It can even be caused by rubbing your eye too much or too hard. A burst blood vessel usually doesn’t hurt, or even feel like much of anything, so you might be in for a shock when you first look in the mirror—it tends to look worse than it is. Also known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage, this issue usually goes away on its own within two weeks. However, if you frequently or easily burst blood vessels in your eyes, it may be a sign of a more serious problem. People with diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and blood-clotting disorders are especially susceptible to broken blood vessels.

Something More Serious?

Most of the time, redness in the eyes is a sign of something that can either be easily treated or will clear up on its own. However, one of the symptoms of serious eye conditions like glaucoma and uveitis can be reddened eyes. In the case of glaucoma, the redness will likely be accompanied by eye pain, halos around lights, nausea, and/or vision loss. Uveitis often brings redness, light sensitivity, and/or blurred vision. If you’re having any of these symptoms, beyond redness of the eye(s), you need to see an ophthalmologist and start treatment immediately. If you catch them early, these conditions can be effectively remedied. If left untreated, however, both can ultimately lead to vision loss.

These are just some of the most common causes of reddened eyes. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Red eyes can be caused by wearing contacts for too long, various infections, mere eye fatigue, and more. At Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons, specialists Dr. William Segal and Dr. Marc lay have the experience and expertise to diagnose and treat whatever eye condition may be troubling you. If you’re concerned with your eyesight or would like to schedule a comprehensive medical eye examination, contact Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and check back often for new blogs.