Nearly everyone gets red eyes (often called bloodshot eyes) at some point. A temporary condition, red eyes typically result from being tired, suffering from allergies or dry eyes, being around smoke, or having eye irritation from contact lenses. 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 return eyes to their normally clear condition.
How do redness-relieving eye drops work?
Eye drops for clearing the red from your eyes are usually made from a decongestant. 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.
Another type of drop is made from a non-decongestant medicine. This also reduces swelling of the eye’s blood vessels.
Some red eye relief drops also contain lubricants to help protect the eye from dryness that also causes irritation.
Are redness-relieving eye drops safe?
It is important to know that 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 trying preservative-free lubricating eye drops (artificial tears) first as a red eye fix. If these work to clear the red from your eyes, you can avoid using a medicine.
If you do use redness-reliving eye drops, use them only occasionally and for a short period of time (such as before an important meeting, for a photograph or for a special event). As with a nasal decongestant, redness-relieving eye drops should not be used for more than 72 hours.
People who have narrow-angle glaucoma (or narrow-anterior chamber glaucoma) should not use redness-relieving eyedrops made from decongestants. This is because they run the risk of developing angle-closure glaucoma, a very serious medical emergency.
When should you talk with your ophthalmologist about red eyes?
Having red eyes is usually a temporary symptom of eye irritation, fatigue or a common, 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.