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  • Redness-Relieving Eye Drops

    Reviewed By J Kevin McKinney, MD
    Edited By David Turbert
    Published Apr. 07, 2023

    How To Get Rid of Red Eye

    Nearly everyone gets red eyes (often called bloodshot eyes) at some point. Red eyes are temporary. They usually happen when:

    An eye infection like conjunctivitis (pink eye) also makes your eyes red.

    Tiny blood vessels on the surface of your eye (the sclera, or white of the eye) are the culprits. When irritation causes these blood vessels to expand, it makes the whites of your eyes appear pink or red.

    Redness-relieving eye drops are one way to make your eyes clear again.

    How Do Redness-Relieving Eye Drops Work?

    Most eye drops for clearing the red from your eyes are made from a decongestant called tetrahydrozoline. This type of medicine temporarily reduces swelling of the eye’s blood vessels. When these blood vessels are no longer swollen, the eye’s pink or red hue disappears. Redness can return when the drops wear off. Sometimes the redness can be worse than before. This is called rebound redness.

    There is a newer decongestant drop called brimonidine. This drop works differently than tetrahydrozoline. It also reduces swelling of the eye’s blood vessels, but it has a lower risk for rebound redness. 

    Some red eye relief drops also contain lubricants. The lubricants help protect the eye from dryness that also causes irritation.

    Are Redness-Relieving Eye Drops Safe?

    When redness-relieving drops made from decongestants wear off, your eyes can become more red than before. This rebound redness can worsen over time, leading to persistent red eyes. For this reason, many eye doctors recommend preservative-free lubricating eye drops (artificial tears). If these drops work to clear the red from your eyes, you can avoid using decongestant drops.

    If you do use redness-reliving eye drops, use them only occasionally and for a short time. For example, use them before an important meeting, for a photograph or for a special event. As with a nasal decongestant, don't use redness-relieving eye drops for more than 72 hours.

    People who have narrow-angle glaucoma (or narrow-anterior chamber glaucoma) should not use decongestant drops. They run the risk of developing angle-closure glaucoma, a very serious medical emergency.

    When Should You Talk With Your Ophthalmologist About Red Eyes?

    Red eyes are usually a temporary symptom of eye irritation, fatigue or a treatable eye infection like pink eye. There are home remedies for bloodshot eyes that you can try for mild symptoms. But sometimes red eye can result from a more serious eye problem or disease, such as uveitis or glaucoma.

    To make sure your red eyes are treated properly, see your ophthalmologist if:

    Your ophthalmologist can determine the cause of your red eyes and find the best way to treat them.