what causes red and bloodshot eyes

What Causes Eyes to Become Bloodshot or "Red"?

Ever feel dead tired and can’t stop yawning? The reason you’re yawning is because you are lacking oxygen. In addition to feeling lethargic, a lack of oxygen is the same reason why your eyes are red and bloodshot. When your eyes lack oxygen, inflammation occurs. If you’ve ever stared at yourself in the mirror with bloodshot eyes, fascinated by the red, spidery veins in the eyeball’s white ring—the sclera—what you’re actually seeing are engorged, minute blood vessels.

So what causes red or bloodshot eyes? There are several reasons. Some you’re likely familiar with; others you may be reading about for the first time. You won’t likely experience eye pain when your eyes appear bloodshot. However, it is very important to remember if loss of vision occurs, discomfort, or pain occur, you should seek immediate medical attention.


Conjunctivitis, aka ‘pink eye’

Inflammation of the membranes covering the whites of the eyes can lead to conjunctivitis, aka ‘pink eye’ (which actually appears red). A clear, non-colored goopy discharge is often a characteristic of conjunctivitis, in addition to swollen eyelids. If you have pain looking at bright lights, you may have conjunctivitis.

A virus is one major cause of conjunctivitis and sometimes manifests during the cycle of a common cold; bacteria, like streptococcus can also cause red eyes. If it’s a bacterial cause, eye discharge may be different than its viral counterpart, as it has a green or yellow color.

For temporary treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis, a warm compress against your eyes will provide relief. You can also purchase an over-the-counter eye-drop decongestant for temporary relief. Bacterial causes of conjunctivitis need to be treated with antibiotic drops; viral conjunctivitis doesn’t require antibiotics for treatment. Homeopathic remedies are also available, such as pulsatilla, especially if the cause is viral and a symptom of the common cold. Bilberry is also a highly effective homeopathic herb for ocular health.


How to Choose an Eye Doctor

Also called a ‘sub conjunctival hemorrhage’, bloodshot eyes occurs in this instance when straining because of a persistent cough. Sometimes, this cause of red eye only appears in one eye. Pain is usually not associated with a sub conjunctival hemorrhage. Symptoms of it may appear for up to a week or two. Non-prescription and all-natural eye drops may help clear this cause of bloodshot eyes.

Allergic Reactions

There are several environmental factors that can cause red or bloodshot eyes, such as dust or dander, pollen or dry air and a host of others. Though lack of sleep itself may not be an allergic reaction, it could be the result of environmental factors, such as your partner having sleep apnea, snoring through the night.

Environmental irritants of all kinds can lead to red eye as they rob the body’s cells of oxygen. Professionals recommend oral antihistamines or eye drops such as Visine before visiting a doctor, because symptoms usually clear up in a reasonable time.


How to Choose an Eye Doctor

Though it doesn’t cause permanent loss of eyesight, blepharitis is a more serious condition. Non-contagious and produced by bacteria, blepharitis is actually a common eye disorder. Symptoms of blepharitis, besides red eye, include dandruff-like flakes on the eyelashes. The condition may actually cause one to lose their eyelashes. Other traits of blepharitis may include blurred vision, itching and burning.

Inflammation of the eyelash follicles is the main cause of blepharitis, and treatment is with antibiotics, if a medical professional deems it necessary. If not, anti-dandruff shampoo and discontinued use of clogging eye makeup may be effective.

The underlying cause of blepharitis may be a bit more challenging to discern than other causes of red eye such as lack of sleep, excessive alcohol consumption (and especially, paired with lack of sleep), of say, walking through a cottonwood forest.

Though there are several causes of bloodshot eyes, most are highly treatable, with several home remedies available, from the homeopathic route to eye drops. If eye pain or compromised vision accompanies your bloodshot eyes, consult a medical professional immediately.


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