Eye Health: The Top 10 Common Causes of Red Eye

Red eye is a common eye problem that you’ve probably experienced on more than one occasion. But what is red eye and what causes it?

The common eye problem, “Red eye”, often occurs when the blood vessels on the white outer surface of the eye, the sclera, get swollen or dilated. It can accompany itchiness, irritation, or blurry vision, among other unpleasant symptoms. Additionally, red eye can occur without any other pain or irritation in the eyes.

As it turns out, red eye may be the result of one of many eye conditions and problems. Here are 10 of the most common causes of red eye:

1. Allergic Reaction

The allergies that make many of us feel stuffy and irritated also cause us to have red eyes. Substances that cause an allergic reaction resulting in red eye include:

  • Pollen
  • Chemicals
  • Certain foods
  • Contact lens solutions
  • And many thousands of other possibilities

Your doctor may be able to prescribe allergy medication, and over-the-counter remedies like eye drops can also help.

2. Dry Eyes

Dry eyes may result when your tears (either due to not enough tears being generated or poor quality of tears that they do produce) fail to lubricate your eyes properly. After a while, dry eyes become irritated enough so that they begin to swell and develop into “red eyes.”

Dry eyes can often be soothed with the help of over-the-counter “artificial tears,” and your optometrist may be able to help make recommendations as well.

3. Contact Lens Irritation

Contact lenses are one of the most common causes of red eye. When contact lenses are worn for too long, or when improperly cared for, they will start to irritate the surface of your eye, causing the blood vessels to swell.

You can help prevent red eye by properly caring for your contact lenses, cleaning them regularly, storing them according to their directions of use, and by replacing them when necessary.

Your eye doctor will be able to help you with proper contact lens use, and with deciding when it’s time to get new lenses.

4. Digital Eye Strain

Digital eye strain, often brought on by excessive computer use, can also cause red eyes. Staring into a computer screen (whether it’s a desktop computer or a tablet, smart phone, or even TV screen) for too long can make your eyes feel fatigued and even lead to burning and itching eyes.

One possible cause of digital eye strain is the fact that we tend to blink less often while staring at computer screens. It’s a good idea to take frequent breaks (by looking away from the screen for at least 10 seconds) and to make a conscious effort to blink more often.

5. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” is contagious and common with school-aged children. Put simply, conjunctivitis is an infection of the conjunctiva—the membrane that covers the sclera. The infection causes the blood vessels on the eye to swell and become irritated, resulting in a pinkish-reddish color.

If you think you or your child has pink eye, set an appointment with your eye doctor to get a correct diagnosis.

6. Eye Injury

An eye injury or eye surgery can cause red eye to occur. This is because the eye’s blood vessels dilate to facilitate more blood flow (and aid in healing), resulting in the telltale signs of red eye.

Eye injuries ranging from small irritations and scratches to major injury can cause red eye to occur. If you’ve suffered a serious eye injury (such as a puncture or chemical burn), it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

7. Cold or Flu

Red eye is a common symptom of the cold or flu, usually brought on by a sinus infection. As the cold or flu gets better, your red eye should subside as well. Over the counter medication may be helpful in alleviating the symptoms, but if your red eye persists for longer than 3 or 4 days you should set an appointment with your eye doctor.

8. Smoking

Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs; it’s bad for your eyes, too. The smoke from cigarettes can irritate and cause red eye, and smoking is known to increase your chances of getting cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

In addition to cigarettes, the THC in marijuana is known to cause the blood vessels in the eye to dilate and produce red eye.

9. Pregnancy

The hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy often contribute to eye irritation, red eye, and sensitivity to bright light. Some women find it painful to wear contact lenses during pregnancy, as well. This is because the curvature of the cornea can change slightly—a small change, but it may be necessary to get a new pair of contact lenses during pregnancy if you wish to continue wearing them. Eye problems associated with pregnancy usually subside shortly after giving birth.

10. Lack of Sleep

It should be no surprise that lack of sleep contributes to red eye, along with other signs like circles under the eyes. There are many benefits to getting enough sleep—and it might just relieve your red eye, too.

If you continue to struggle with red eye, you may want to visit an eye doctor. With the nation’s largest network of independent doctors, and plans to fit your needs, a VSP® individual vision insurance plan can help you get access to excellent vision insurance plans with the lowest out-of-pocket costs. Find a VSP Individual Vision Plan today.

Information received through VSP Individual Vision Plans’ social media channels is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, medical recommendations, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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