Bloodshot Eyes

I’ve experienced just about every manner of bloodshot eyes, but lately about the only time they are debilitating or painful is the morning after a friend’s wedding party or some event that involves the imbibing of regrettable amounts of good beer. Thankfully this isn’t a regular occurrence and usually the best treatment is pulling the shades, sucking down some ibuprofen with a couple of water chasers, and sleeping an extra four to eight hours. At that point, if my only problem is bloodshot eyes, I consider myself lucky. Age catches up with us all, but bloodshot eyes don’t have to stick around…and usually are easy to get rid of.

Bloodshot eyes are an inflammation or rupturing of the capillary vessels contained in the covering or outside layer of the eye (called the conjunctiva). It is the same inflammation that could cause headaches, puffy eyes, or other symptoms. That inflammation can be caused by all sorts of problems and can even be caused by too much time in the sun. The results can vary, depending on situational severity, from slightly accentuated vessels to blood-red “demon eyes.” This means, of course, that the treatments may vary as well.

Best Ways to Get Rid of Bloodshot Eyes


Seasonal allergies and other environmental factors can bring on bloodshot eyes. People are allergic to all sorts of strange things. I really feel for those of you who have to suffer through seasonal allergies or find yourself swelling up around something as ubiquitous as dust. Those same allergic reactions in the nose can cause an inflammation that often affects the eyes as well (not to mention all of the sneezing and nose blowing). Consider using some kind of air-filtration system to cut down on dust and pollen in the air. Over-the-counter antihistamine/allergy medications (Benadryl) or eyedrops (Alaway) and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen) will help to make life tolerable. Amazon sells Motrin, for instance. You might also want to talk to a physician about the prescription options available.

Chemical Irritants

Very often bloodshot eyes are caused by chemical irritants such as smoke or foreign objects. Obviously, the first thing to do is to carefully remove any foreign objects and remove yourself from any situation that is harmful to your eyes. Stay away from smoky bars (if they still exist). If you’re a hold-out and still smoking yourself, try to do so somewhere with adequate ventilation. As always, wear protective safety equipment if you are in an area that contains aerosolized irritants, flying debris, or harmful vapors. Washing out your eyes with clean cold water can help a bit by clearing out foreign contaminants, as can artificial tears (Visine, Clear Eyes). Visit an ophthalmologist if things don’t clear up in a day or two after exposure.


Bloodshot eyes are very often associated with insomnia or a persistent lack of sleep. Insomnia can be a very serious medical condition. Most of us have experienced short bouts of sleeplessness that might be associated with particular situational stress or anxiety. If it lasts more than a couple of weeks, you have a real problem on your hands. You should definitely seek help from a physician and maybe even request a consultation with a sleep specialist. For day-to-day sleep problems I have found that if I try not to consume caffeine before bed, I tend to fall asleep faster. Also you should turn off your TV and computer well before bedtime, as they can affect your ability to sleep.


Eyestrain or fatigue is another common cause of bloodshot eyes. A lot of us spend most of our days looking at one kind of screen or another. Aesthenopia is another name for what some call Computer Vision Syndrome. Of course it doesn’t have to be related to using a computer. It is caused by focusing on any one thing for too long. A good exercise regimen to follow is to look toward an object twenty feet away every twenty minutes. You should opt for natural lighting in your office rather than fluorescent lights (if possible). Also, setting up a dim light behind your monitor can help to balance brightness levels in your peripheral vision, which can reduce eyestrain.

Contact Lenses

Contact lenses can sometimes lead to bloodshot eyes. If your contact lenses are giving you problems, it’s quite likely that either they haven’t been made properly for your eyes or something is amiss with your lens solution. You may want to try switching out to something like BioTrue sold at Amazon. A lot of contact lens problems are also related to wearers not following the guidelines for length of use. Some lenses should be disposed of after each use, while others can be worn for a longer period of time. Still others are removed each day, cleaned, and stored overnight in a case. All of these variations can cause confusion, which leads to the problem of over-wear—something that could hurt your eye because of a lack of oxygen. Remove your contact lenses and consult your optometrist if bloodshot eyes should become a problem.

Natural Bloodshot-Eye Treatments

A cold compress to reduce inflammation

Ice is useful for reducing any kind of inflammation. If your allergies have flared up, or if your eyes are inflamed from a run-in with some kind of irritant or micro-organism, placing an ice pack or even a clean cold wet washrag over your eyes can help to soothe the discomfort. However, ice can only do so much if you don’t treat the cause of the inflammation.

The twenty method

The twenty method is a revised version of the 20/20/20 rule. When you are reading or working on a computer, place those objects below your plane of vision at about twenty degrees. Then, every twenty minutes take a twenty-second break to look at something twenty meters away. This small rest period allows your eyes to refocus.

Relaxation for prevention

Insomnia or difficulties falling asleep can cut into our essential nightly rest periods. Developing a yoga practice or studying different relaxation techniques will be helpful in many facets of your life. They are especially useful before bedtime to help wind down your mind a bit. Turn off the thinking machine—you can fret over finances come morning.

Bloodshot Eyes Can Be a Symptom of an Eye Infection

Commonly called pink eye, contagious conjunctivitis can be viral or bacterial. The thing to remember when you suspect you have an eye infection is to avoid touching your eyes. Also, wash your hands as often as possible. Especially if you live with other people. As a species, we tend to touch our faces a lot without realizing it. Children are even more likely to touch their infected eyes and not wash their hands. This leads to wide-spread pinkeye outbreaks at daycare centers and schools.

Viral Infections of the eye are caused by some of the same viruses that cause the common cold and the flu (Rhinovirus, influenza). Viral infections generally go away on their own in less than two weeks. There is no cure per say, but you can treat the symptoms and boost your immune system with anti-inflammatory drugs and vitamins.

Bacterial infections of the eye are mostly associated with such bacteria as Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus. Bacterial infections are extra gross due to the pus goop that forms en masse on the eyelashes, often drying and sealing your eyes shut. Thankfully this awful condition responds well to antibiotics.

Marijuana and Bloodshot Eyes

The stoners I knew in college always carried around little bottles of Visine. They tended to get very paranoid that everyone knew they were stoned because of their bloodshot eyes. It is true that bloodshot eyes are a sign of marijuana use, not just because of the eye irritation from smoke, but because some of the chemicals in marijuana are vasodilators (meaning they open up blood vessels). Marijuana can also temporarily affect the way our bodies create saliva and mucous—think cotton mouth and that squinty, bloodshot-eye look associated with drug use. The fact is that you are far more likely to have bloodshot eyes for just about any other reason, so it’s nothing to be too anxious about. But try telling that to someone who’s high.

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About the Author

Sean Froyd

Sean Froyd