Red eyes

If you have redness in one or both eyes, it's generally a sign of a minor eye condition, such as conjunctivitis or a burst blood vessel. Most often the redness will go away on its own, but if you’re experiencing a lot of discomfort, the problem may be more serious. If you have red eyes and are worried about it, see your GP or optometrist for diagnosis and treatment.


What causes red eyes?

Common causes include:

• Conjunctivitis: This is where the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye becomes inflamed. As a result, the eye reddens and can feel itchy or uncomfortable

• A burst blood vessel in the eye: This can be caused by an injury to the eye, or by straining – such as during a violent coughing fit


If your red eye is painful, you should see your GP or optometrist. Possible causes include:

• Uveitis (also known as iritis, uveitis is inflammation of the iris or coloured part of the eye)

• Glaucoma (glaucoma is a condition where the optic nerve that connects your eye and brain becomes damaged)

• Corneal ulcer (an infection of the cornea, the clear front surface of the eye)

• A scratch in the cornea or a particle in the eye (this could be caused by a piece of grit getting in your eye)


What are the symptoms of red eyes?

The symptoms of red eyes depend on the cause.

• Conjunctivitis symptoms include itchiness and watering of the eyes, as well as a sticky coating on the eyelashes

• Uveitis may cause your eye to be sensitive to light, your vision may be blurred and you may have a headache

• If you have an acute type of glaucoma, your eye will probably be very red and painful, and you may feel sick and see halos around lights. Your vision may also be blurred or cloudy

• A corneal ulcer can make the eye red and sensitive to light. It can also make it feel like there’s something in your eye

If you're experiencing red eyes accompanied by any other symptoms, you should visit your GP or optometrist for diagnosis and treatment.


How can red eyes be treated?

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

• If you're not sure that you have conjunctivitis, you should visit your GP or speak to your pharmacist. Your GP may prescribe antibiotics for conjunctivitis depending on the cause, or your pharmacist may be able to recommend other products that may help

• Uveitis generally responds quickly to treatment with steroid medicine to reduce inflammation – this needs to be prescribed a doctor

• Acute glaucoma requires immediate treatment from an ophthalmologist (a specialist eye doctor), as leaving the condition untreated can result in permanent damage – your GP or optician will be able to refer you if necessary

• If there’s something in your eye that can't be removed using an eye wash, a GP or hospital doctor at an A&E department may be able to remove it. You might be given antibiotic drops or ointment to use for a few days to minimise the risk of infection while it heals

Make sure to visit your GP or optometrist if you’re experiencing any symptoms related to red eyes, and have your eyes tested regularly (at least every two years) to maintain good general eye health.


When should you get medical advice for red eyes?

If your red eye is painful, you have other symptoms such as changes in your vision, sensitivity to light, a severe headache, feeling sick, or if you’ve recently injured your eye, visit your GP for advice.


Next steps

• If you’re experiencing symptoms of red eyes, visit your GP or optometrist for a diagnosis

• Once a diagnosis has been made, take steps to treat the red eyes depending on the underlying cause

• Make sure you have your eyes tested at least every two years