Red eyes can present an alarming appearance. However in most cases the underlying causes are painless and easy to treat. If you do find that your eyes are very painful, or your vision has been affected, then this might indicate a more serious condition. You should see your doctor for more advice as soon as possible.
Causes of Red Eyes
There are many conditions and factors that can cause red eyes. These can be treated in most cases at home, with natural or over-the-counter remedies:
- Conjunctivitis – this common condition causes swelling and inflammation of the thin layer of tissue surrounding the eyeball and eyelids. This swelling can make the eye feel gritty, dry and uncomfortable. It can also cause the tiny blood vessels in the eye to swell, making them appear red. Conjunctivitis can be caused by an irritant getting into the eye (such as pollen or dust) or an infection. Patients will normally find that allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes simultaneously, whereas viral or bacterial conjunctivitis will start in one eye first, before infecting the other eye a few days later.
- Burst Blood Vessels – another common cause of red eyes are burst blood vessels. The blood vessels in the eye are small and delicate. Sometimes straining, coughing or even sneezing can rupture these small vessels and cause a red appearance to the eye affected (this is known as a subconjunctival haemorrhage.) Some medications, such as aspirin, can affect the body’s ability to clot and this can worsen the appearance of burst blood vessels in the eye. However although burst blood vessels can look very uncomfortable, in most cases they are painless and will clear up on their own after a few weeks.
- Environmental Toxins – many chemicals in the environment can cause red eyes. These can get into the eyes in the form of smoke, fumes, solids and liquids. For example a common environmental toxin is cigarette smoke. Many people find this can irritate their eyes and cause redness and swelling.
- Eye Strain – we can overuse our eyes and cause redness and irritation. Eye strain is common with extended computer and television usage, as people will tend to watch very intently without blinking and resting the eyes enough. Eye strain can cause redness and swelling, which should clear in a few days if the eyes are rested.
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Other causes of eye strain can include
- Alcohol consumption
- Poor diet
- Sun exposure
- Incorrect use of contact lenses
- Iritis (inflammation of the iris)
- Eye injuries (including lacerations and abrasions)
- High blood pressure
- Vitamin B deficiencies
Red eyes can also be caused by some more serious conditions such as liver disease, diabetes and acute glaucoma. The latter is when the pressure inside the eyeball increases. Typically the eye will be very painful and watery, and your vision may be affected (such as blurred, cloudy and increased sensitive to light). Acute glaucoma, liver disease and diabetes are serious conditions, and you must see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any significant changes to your eyes or vision.
Treating Red Eyes
In most cases of painless red eyes, you will be able to find effective treatments at your local chemist, or even in your own store cupboards. There are many practical natural and over-the-counter remedies that can soothe and reduce the appearance of red eyes. Treatment will depend on the underlying causes of the red eye. Remember that your eyes are very sensitive and delicate organs, and using the wrong treatments could exacerbate symptoms. As a general rule you should make sure you wash your hands and dry them thoroughly on a clean cloth before treating your eyes. Try to avoid wearing contact lenses or make-up around your eyes until they have healed. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before applying any over-the-counter remedies to your eyes. Here are a few effective remedies for treating red eyes:
- Cold Compress – one of the quickest and easiest ways to soothe red eyes is a cold compress. There are several types of cold compresses available. You could simply soak a clean flannel in cold water, squeeze out excess water and lay it over your eyes. Some good natural remedies include using slices of cold cucumber or cold camomile tea bags. Some people also recommend soaking cotton wool pads in cold fresh milk. Whatever cold compress you are using simply place it over your closed eyes, and relax for up to five minutes. Always throw away used compresses (or wash if using a flannel) to avoid cross-infection. Never use ice, or ice cold compresses on your eyes as this can burn the delicate tissues.
- Eye Wash – if your eyes are very dry and irritated, or you feel like a foreign body has got into them, then you could try an eye wash. There are several brand name eye washes available over-the-counter that can offer sterile and affective ways to wash out your eyes. For a natural remedy boil fennel seeds in fresh water (1 teaspoon per cup of water) for around 30 minutes. Leave to cool completely and then use to rinse out the eyes.
- Eye Drops – if you suffer from dry and irritated eyes then you can buy over-the-counter artificial tear drops. These help to lubricate eyes and prevent redness. Medicated eye drops are also available over-the-counter to help treat conjunctivitis.
- Anti-Allergy Medication – if your red eyes are caused by allergies then you can buy effective anti-allergy medication over-the-counter. These contain antihistamines that can help to reduce redness and swelling in the eyes. To help prevent allergic reactions, natural therapists also recommend eating a teaspoon of local honey every day. This can help to prevent your body from over-reacting to grass and tree pollens in your local environment.
Preventing Red Eyes
You can help to prevent red eyes from occurring by following some simple best practice guidelines:
- Always wash your hands before touching your eyes. Try to avoid rubbing your eyes as this can damage to the delicate tissues.
- Ensure you eat a balanced, healthy diet. In particular deficiencies in vitamins A and B are linked with eye problems so make sure you are eating plenty of vegetables and fruits that offer natural sources of these vitamins.
- Always wear appropriate safety glasses when you carry out jobs/tasks that could result in dust or debris that could injure the eye.
- Throw away out-of-date make-up and ensure your make-up applicators are clean before using.
- Some beauty products can cause redness, so try substituting with hypoallergenic products.
- Reduce alcohol consumption and smoking to help prevent red eyes.
- Take regular breaks away from computer screens and televisions to rest your eyes.
- Make sure you get plenty of sleep to help relax and rest eyes.
- Wear approved sun glasses to reduce overexposure to sunlight in bright conditions.
- Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guidance for wearing contact lenses.
- Even if you don’t wear glasses or contact lenses, have an eye exam every two years. This can pick up eye conditions early before they become a serious problem.
Red eyes can be an alarming condition. However in most cases it can look worse than it really is. The most common causes of red eye such as conjunctivitis and eye strain are mostly painless, and can be easily treated at home. If you do experience pain, changes in vision or any other symptoms then you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.
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