Bloodshot or red eyes

What causes bloodshot or red eyes?

Kate Harris

Eye Health Advisor
Ask Kate

An introduction to bloodshot or red eyes

Bloodshot eyes occur when the small blood vessels on the surface of the eye begin to swell, as extra blood is pushed to the surface. When a bright red patch appears in one area of the eye, this indicates a small bleed under the surface of the eye.

Bloodshot or red eyes are generally not a cause for concern, unless accompanied by pain or impaired vision, at which point you should seek medical advice.

What could be causing my bloodshot eyes?

Bloodshot eyes appear when the blood vessels in the eyes become enlarged and easily visible, often as a result of irritation. The common causes of bloodshot eyes are:

  • Conjunctivitis– usually accompanied with discharge, itchy eyes, a burning sensation and discomfort
  • Dry eyes
  • Rubbing the eyes too much
  • Blepharitis – the accompanying symptoms are similar to conjunctivitis, but may also include loss of eyelashes
  • Lack of sleep
  • An allergy – commonly hayfever, but a number of allergies could cause bloodshot or red eyes, including pet and dust allergies
  • Irritation from contact lenses
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Alcohol – and the hangover that follows!
  • Or, a cold or flu
  • In some cases, the cause is unknown.

More uncommonly, bloodshot eyes could be caused by:

  • Acute glaucoma – this is when there is a sudden increase in pressure in the eye
  • A corneal ulcer, often as a result of keratitis
  • Diabetes
  • Blood thinning drugs
  • Glandular fever
  • Menopause/menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • IBS
  • Mumps.

In some cases bloodshot eyes can be caused be a small bleed in the eye (subconjunctival haemorrhage), which can result from something simple like coughing too much or sneezing too hard. One of the tiny blood vessels in the eye may burst, leaking blood underneath the thin ‘skin’ (conjunctiva) that covers the eyeball. It usually looks alarming, but it not often serious.

This bleed could also be caused by an eye or head injury so if you have recently experienced this kind of injury, or think you may have damaged your eye – for example from smashing a glass – then you should seek medical advice.

Sometimes high blood pressure can cause a subconjunctival haemorrhage, so if you think this is a possibility then you should also seek medical advice.

What can I do about my bloodshot/red eyes?

There isn’t really much you can do about this condition as it tends to go away on its own. However, you may be able to treat the underlying condition that is causing the bloodshot eyes using natural home remedies. For example:

  • Irritation from contact lenses can be solved by taking the lenses out and cleaning them, replacing the lenses, or switching to glasses. If your lenses are persistently irritating your eyes consult your optician for further advice
  • If your bloodshot eyes are caused by a lack of sleep, the simple solution is to go to bed earlier. You could also try our sleep hygiene tips to help you get a better quality of sleep
  • If the cause of your bloodshot eyes is likely to be alcohol or cigarettes, try cutting these out of your lifestyle, or at least reducing them
  • If an allergy is the problem, try avoiding this allergen as much as possible and using over-the-counter allergy remedies
  • If conjunctivitis is the problem, there are a range of natural treatments available on our conjunctivitis treatments page. We also have articles on dry eyes, blephartis and itchy eyes, so if these are the problem, head over to their individual pages for more information on natural home remedies
  • If your eyes are itchy and irritated, a cool or warm compress may help. Simply soak a cloth in cold or warm (not hot) water and place over the eyes for five to ten minutes.

Are there any herbal remedies that might help?

Depending on the cause of your bloodshot eyes, there are likely to be some useful herbal remedies. In particular Euphrasia may be of help – this herb has been used to treat eye problems since the 14th century, and is called Eyebright by many because of its history of traditional uses in eye health.

We recommend using Euphrasia in eye drop form, such as the A.Vogel Eye Drops that contain an extract of the herb. These drops will be particularly useful for dry, tired and irritated eyes, but many have reported positive results using Euphrasia to treat conjunctivitis and blepharitis.

In addition, you may wish to try our Vision Complex for healthy eyes and vision. This supplement contains lutein and zinc, both of which are vital for maintaining good health and aiding the absorption of vitamins A and C, which are also essential for maintaining eye health.

Conventional treatments

Again, the type of conventional treatment available depends on the cause of your bloodshot and red eyes, as there isn’t really a treatment for this symptom specifically.

For example, if caused by bacterial conjunctivitis, bloodshot eyes can be treated with antibiotics, though usually only if the body is struggling to fight the infection. Bloodshot eyes caused by allergies can be treated with antihistamines.

Vision Complex – for healthy eyes

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