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Eye redness

Definition

Eye redness is most often due to swollen or dilated blood vessels. This makes the surface of the eye look red or bloodshot.

Alternative Names

Bloodshot eyes; Red eyes; Scleral infection; Conjunctival infection

Considerations

There are many causes of a red eye or eyes. Some are medical emergencies and some are a cause for concern, but not an emergency. Others are nothing to worry about.

Eye redness is often less of a concern than eye pain or vision problems.

Causes

Bloodshot eyes appear red because the vessels at the surface of the white portion of the eye (sclera) become swollen. Vessels may swell due to:

Eye infections or inflammation can cause redness as well as possible itching, discharge, pain, or vision problems. These may be due to:

Other potential causes of eye redness include:

Sometimes, a bright red spot, called a subconjunctival hemorrhage, will appear on the white of the eye. This often happens after straining or coughing, which causes a broken blood vessel on the surface of the eye. Most often, there is no pain and your vision is normal. It is almost never a serious problem. Because the blood leaks into the conjunctiva, which is clear, you cannot wipe or rinse the blood away. Like a bruise, the red spot will go away within a week or two.

Home Care

Try to rest your eyes if redness is due to fatigue or eye strain. No other treatment is needed.

If you have eye pain or a vision problem, call your eye doctor right away.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the hospital or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if:

Call your health care provider if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical exam, including an eye exam, and ask questions about your medical history. Questions may include:

Your provider may need to wash your eyes with a saline solution and remove any foreign bodies in the eyes. You may be given eye drops to use at home.

References

Alvarenga LS, Ginsberg B, Mannis MJ.. Bacterial conjunctivitis. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013:vol 4, chap 5.

Rubenstein JB, Tannan A. Infectious and noninfectious. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 4.6.

Wright JL, Wightman JM. Red and painful eye. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 22.


Review Date: 9/2/2014
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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