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9 Causes of Red Eyes

  • Spring has sprung, which means that the days get longer, the temperature begins to rise, and trees and flowers that lost their leaves during winter begin to bloom again. It also signals the start of spring allergy season, which affects some 60 million Americans each year. Allergies can cause an array of symptoms, including breathing problems, sneezing, congestion and others. One symptom in particular can be a bit more noticeable than the others: red eyes.

    We all experience red eyes now and again, and not just because we’ve got spring allergies. The fact is there are a number of causes of red eyes. Here are nine.

  • 1. Dry Eye

    Dry eye can be caused by a number of things, but typically results from an insufficient flow of tears and inadequate lubrication for the eyes. Chronic dry eye (dry eye syndrome) can lead to irritation of the eyes which makes them appear red.

    There are a number of treatments available for dry eye (depending on the cause). The redness associated with dry eye can often be alleviated with eye drops.

  • 2. Computer Vision Syndrome

    Also referred to as digital eye strain, computer vision syndrome results from prolonged use of digital screens such as computers, smart phones, tablets, TVs and so forth. Oftentimes when staring at digital screens, we blink less. This can cause dry eye, which in turn can lead to redness.

    Make sure to take plenty of breaks during the workday, and spend some time blinking and staring into the distance every 15 to 30 minutes. This will help prevent computer vision syndrome-associated dry eye.

  • 3. Trauma

    An eye injury or other such trauma can lead to redness as part of the healing process. The blood vessels of the eye naturally dilate (open) in order to increase blood flow to the affected area. Bleeding from the vessels (subconjunctival hemorrhage) can also result in patches of redness in the eyes. This sort of bleeding can result from things like sneezing and coughing.

    Depending on the severity of the eye injury or trauma, you should speak with an eye doctor as soon as possible to determine a course of treatment.

  • 4. Smoking

    There are a number of well-known adverse effects associated with smoking, including lung disease, emphysema, cancer and heart disease. But smokers also face an increased risk of serious eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Cigarette smoke can also irritate the eyes to the point of causing red eye. Smokers may adjust to the smoke over time, but second-hand recipients may still be affected.

  • 5. Marijuana

    In addition to cigarettes and other forms of smoking tobacco, marijuana also has been linked with red eyes. The active ingredient in marijuana (THC) causes the blood vessels to dilate, which in turn can cause bloodshot eye redness that can linger for several hours. Unlike tobacco, marijuana does not need to be smoked to cause red eyes. Ingestion of THC can have the same effect.

  • 6. Sleep Deprivation

    Dark, sagging eyes are a telltale sign of sleep deprivation. Tired eyes can feel strained and people often rub them to try and wake up. Unfortunately all this does is further exacerbate the issue. Fortunately there’s an easy solution to red eyes caused by a lack of sleep. Get more sleep!

    Read more about the NASA and NEI early cataract detection project.

  • 7. Environmental Factors

    Weather, pollution and airborne particles can cause red eyes. Like smoke from cigarettes, environmental factors — such as high winds, dust and even sunlight — can irritate the eyes, causing them to become dry and/or red. If you work in a hazardous environment, safety goggles are a must for eye protection.

  • 8. Cold and Flu

    You might experience red eyes during cold and flu season when you get sick. This is not a direct result of the sickness but rather an indirect result because of its effects. Constant sneezing and coughing can affect the blood vessels of the eye leading to red eyes.

    Take cold or flu medicine, drink plenty of fluids and get better. The red eyes will get better when you do.

  • 9. Eye Condition

    There are a number of serious eye conditions that can cause red eyes. We’ve already touched on dry eye syndrome, but conditions like ocular herpes, conjunctivitis (pink eye) a corneal ulcer and uveitis (inflammation affecting the middle section of the eye) all can cause red eyes.

    If you have chronic red eyes you should schedule an appointment with an eye doctor as soon as possible to get a thorough evaluation.

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