Red eyes are usually not just red—often they’re also irritated and, sometimes, burning or itchy. So, it’s no wonder that you’re here wanting to know how to make your red eyes go away.

The good news is that most of the time, red eyes are temporary and will clear up with at-home treatment. Sometimes, however, red eyes do need a doctor’s attention.

To find the right red eye remedy for you, it helps to know what’s causing the redness. This guide will help explain common causes of red eyes and how to find relief (and when to see a doctor). Hang in there—we’ve got you!

What Causes Red Eyes

Infographic providing details on common causes of red eye including smoke, a pool with chlorine, a laptop, and a flower for pollen allergy

Most of the time, eye redness occurs when the blood vessels in the eye become inflamed (hence the term “bloodshot”), usually due to some kind of external irritation. Some common irritants include: 

  • Contact lens overwear
  • Seasonal allergies (e.g., pollen)
  • Pet dander
  • Dry or windy weather
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Pool chemicals
  • Perfumes/colognes 

In addition to exposure to irritants like these, your eyes can become red from other things—like not getting enough sleep, drinking alcohol, digital eye strain (also called computer vision syndrome), being pregnant, some systemic medical conditions, or even side effects or overuse of certain eye drops.

When To See a Doctor for Red Eyes

You can get red eye relief at home, but there are times when you should see an optometrist or ophthalmologist to find out how to treat your red eyes. It’s common for red eyes to burn or sting, water, or feel itchy. If you’re experiencing these or any of the following more serious symptoms, then it’s important to book an eye exam:

There’s a wide range of eye disorders and diseases that could cause redness—like pink eye, uveitis, acute glaucoma, blepharitis, and subconjunctival hemorrhage, just to name a few. Even if you don’t experience any of the symptoms listed above, you should still consult with your eye doctor if your redness persists for several days.

How To Treat Red Eyes

Common eye irritations can usually be treated with over-the-counter eye drops or home remedies. Just remember that if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed previously, or your red eyes aren’t clearing up after a few days, then you should see your eye doctor.

Eye Drops

Many people who want to get rid of red, bloodshot eyes fast turn to over-the-counter eye drops. But it’s not as simple as just grabbing a bottle of eye drops off the shelf. There are many different types of eye drops, and choosing the wrong kind may not help to fix your red eyes—it could actually make them worse.

Lubricating Eye Drops

The most commonly used eye drops for red or dry eyes are lubricating eye drops (also called artificial tears). These eye drops are made to mimic your body’s natural tears to keep the surface of your eyes moist. Preservative-free lubricating eye drops are considered the safest for regular use if your red eyes are just due to common irritation.

Allergy Eye Drops

If your eye redness is an allergic reaction to things like dust, pollen, pet dander, or mold, then allergy drops might be a good option to make your red eyes go away. Check with your eye doctor first, and be sure to follow the directions for use.

Anti-redness Drops

Your instinct might be to grab eye drops that are labeled as “anti-redness.” But anti-redness drops should actually be used with caution—these drops are made with decongestants that temporarily reduce the inflammation of the blood vessels in the eyes. 

If these drops are overused, they can actually make red eyes worse, so be sure to follow the directions and seek your eye doctor’s advice if you plan to use these eye drops repeatedly.

How To Get Rid of Red Eyes Without Eye Drops

Before reaching for the eye drops, many people consider how to reduce eye redness naturally. But remember that if your symptoms persist, it’s a good idea to check in with your eye doctor, just to make sure that there isn’t an underlying issue.

Here are some commonly used best practices and home remedies for red eyes that you can try.

Infographic showing ways to help red eyes without eye drops

Hot or Cold Compress

Both hot and cold compresses can be recommended for reducing inflammation. Give both a try and see which one works best for you.

To make a warm compress at home, soak a washcloth or paper towel in warm water (try to use water that’s as warm as possible without being too hot for comfort—we’re going for warm, not hot). Rest for 10 minutes with the towel over your closed eyes. The warmth can help stimulate tear production to keep your red eyes hydrated.

For a cold compress, try the same, but with cold water. You could even try cucumber slices if you’re feeling fancy (store them in the fridge for extra chill). In addition to reducing eye redness, cool compresses are also great for relieving itchiness.

Eye masks that can be heated in the microwave or cooled in the freezer are a great, reusable alternative to a paper towel for hot or cold compresses, as they can hold their temperature longer.

Gentle Washing

Gently washing your lids and lashes can help remove oils and irritants that have built up (even if you don’t see them, they’re there!). Use warm water and a clean washcloth to gently rub your closed eyes. You can also try lightly flushing your eyes with saline solution if you think there are irritants in your eyes.

Avoid Allergens and Other Irritants

Seems obvious, sure, but since red eyes are often caused by exposure to allergens like pollen, dust, pet dander, and mold, it just makes sense to avoid them if you know you’re prone to allergic reactions. 

Not sure if you have allergies? You can always plan a visit with an allergist for help. You can also avoid exposure to other irritants like chlorine, cigarette smoke, and strong perfumes.

Consider the Air at Home

If your red eyes are triggered by mold or mildew, then cleaning out air ducts, replacing air filters, and using a dehumidifier in your home may help to clear your red eyes. On the other hand, a humidifier may help if your red eyes are caused by dryness. Also, pay attention to where you are normally sitting—if it’s under a fan or air vent, that could be drying out your eyes or sending allergens your way, high speed!

Reduce Screen Time

Staring at screens all day is sometimes hard to avoid, especially if you work at a computer. If you think digital eye strain might be the cause for your red eyes, try to reduce your screen exposure, if possible. If your screen time can’t be helped, then blink consciously and often, and be sure to follow the 20-20-20 rule to help remind yourself to take frequent breaks. Every 20 minutes, look away from the screen at an object 20 feet away, and keep your eyes there for 20 seconds.

Red Eyes and Contact Lenses

If you wear contacts and are experiencing frequent eye redness, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with an eye doctor. Your doctor can reassess your lens fit, ensure you’re not overwearing your contacts, confirm that the lenses are being worn and handled properly, and check that you’re using the right type of solution.

If your eye redness is accompanied by pain, stop using your contacts immediately and contact your eye doctor. Your eye doctor will assess your eyes to rule out any signs of infection and inflammation. They may recommend a switch from bi-weekly or monthly contacts to daily disposable lenses when eye redness is a concern, as dailies can be a more hygienic option. 

It’s also very important to clean your contacts and storage case properly. Wearing contacts that haven’t been cleaned well can definitely irritate your eyes and cause redness.

Get Rid of Red Eyes for Good

We hope our guide to red eyes has given you some helpful tips. Whether you choose to treat your red eyes with eye drops or other home remedies, just remember that if the redness persists for several days or you’re experiencing other symptoms, then you should see an eye doctor to make sure an underlying issue isn’t at play. Keep those peepers happy and healthy!

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