Bloodshot eyes aren’t merely a sign of alcoholism or spending long hours in front of your computer with little or no sleep. Persistent redness can even indicate illness.
Read on to learn about what conditions bloodshot eyes can be indicative of, what treatments are available and what to beware of.
What Causes Bloodshot Eyes?
Eyes become red and irritated when the blood vessels on the surface of the eyeball dilate, often due to little sleep, too much alcohol, allergies, illness or excessive rubbing.
Bloodshot eyes can be a sign of conjunctivitis (pink eye), a disorder in which the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid is inflamed. Bloodshot eyes can also be a sign of diabetes, a potentially dangerous illness characterized by deficient insulin, excess sugar in the blood and urine and excessive hunger and thirst. It can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, sickle-cell anemia, high blood pressure, allergy or irritating substances (such as shampoo, dirt, smoke, pool chlorine, etc.).
What Can You Do?
Although bloodshot eyes will usually improve on their own in one or two days, applying a cold compress may help because cold causes vasospasm (shrinkage of blood vessels). When the redness fails to clear up in a few days, this could mean that an underlying illness or infection is present.
If you suspect you have an eye infection or your eyes are often red, consult your doctor. Vasoconstrictor drops, such as olopatadine (Patanol) or epinastine (Elestat), may be recommended to reduce redness and itching. You also may need antibiotic drops, such as ofloxacin (Ocuflox) or ortobramycin (Tobrex), to clear up the infection.
Decongestant eyedrops used to clear redness can cause eyes to become even redder. In a recent study of 70 people presenting with bloodshot eyes, 70 percent of patients studied experienced increased redness as a result of the “rebound” effect. That is, patients using the nonprescription eyedrops developed even greater redness when the effects of the drops wore off. The other 30 percent were allergic or had a toxic reaction to tetrahydrozoline or another ingredient. Rebound redness and inflammation usually clear up when sufferers stop using the drops.
Use non-prescription eyedrops for no longer than four days. Alternatively, try artificial tears as they contain no irritating ingredients. If redness persists, see an eye doctor.
Vasoconstrictor eyedrops, which are widely available without a prescription, can hurt eyes if used too often, by causing conjunctivitis (pink eye). If you develop inflammation, redness, discomfort or discharge while using drops, stop using them immediately. Be especially cautious about using drops containing naphazoline or tetrahydrozoline hydrochloride, such as Clear Eyes, Murine Plus or Visine.