Bloodshot eyes refer to red, spidery veins on the white of your eyeball. They occur when the small vessels on the surface of the eyeball are dilated and visible.
What causes bloodshot eyes?
Many people notice that their eyes are red when they wake up or sometime during the day. Bloodshot eyes, also known as red eye, can be caused by any number of things. One of the most common causes is being exposed to dry air for an extended time. This can occur during times of high heat, low humidity, or because you don’t produce enough tears to keep your eyes moist (dry eyes). Other causes of bloodshot eyes include:
- Broken small blood vessels in your eye, which go away on their own
- An abrasion or scratch on the clear surface of your eye
- An irritant in your eye
- Colds or flu
- Lack of sleep
- Overuse of contact lenses
- Rubbing your eyes excessively
Bloodshot eyes can also be a sign of underlying disease or injury. Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is an infection that commonly produces red, irritated eyes, as well as itching and a discharge from the eye.
Blepharitis is another infection, of the eyelid, that produces redness, typically accompanied by a crust forming over the eyelashes.
What if you do nothing?
Bloodshot eyes usually improve by themselves if the cause is external and temporary.
Home remedies for bloodshot eyes
- Wash your face and eyelids. Using cold water can help, as can cold compresses.
- Try over-the-counter eye drops and eyewashes. Eye drops are rarely necessary because normal eyes do not need cleansing. However, a plain saline eyewash or one that contains boric acid may help with bloodshot eyes. Many people use drops that contain a decongestant to constrict blood vessels. Be sure to follow instructions carefully with any eye product, especially those that contain a decongestant. Overuse of some types of eyedrops (such as a decongestant) can actually increase redness. And eyecups can be a source of infection, so use only the disposable type of eye drops.
When to call your doctor about bloodshot eyes
If you have thick, mucousy discharge—it can be white, green, or yellow—you may have an eye infection. Check with your doctor. Also, if your bloodshot eyes don’t clear up right away or worsen, or if you have eye pain or changes in vision, call your doctor.
What your doctor will do
Your doctor will check your vision, your eyes, and your eyelids. If there is an infection, antibiotic eye drops or ointments may be prescribed.
Also see Hangover: Causes and Treatments.