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Red eyes

Dear Alice,

The "whites" of my eyes are always red. I get enough sleep. I eat healthy. I exercise daily. But my eyes are never white. I really dislike the appearance. My friends all have white "whites" of their eyes. I've tried using visine and other products, but they don't work.

Any suggestions? Ideas?

Dear Reader,

First off, props to you for maintaining such a healthy lifestyle! While continuing this lifestyle can definitely help with maintaining many aspects of your physical and mental health, it may not help with your bloodshot eyes, unfortunately. How long have you been experiencing this redness? If it's been more than two weeks, a visit to your health care provider may be in order. But, unless the redness you're experiencing is accompanied by eye pain, discharge, or impaired vision, it's unlikely that you have a more serious eye disease or infection. In reality, there are two likely culprits that may be causing you to "see red": allergies or eye irritation. Both of these can cause the blood vessels in the whites of the eyes to become enlarged, which in turn causes your eyes to appear red. Read on for more information!

Eyes are super sensitive organs and it doesn't take much to irritate them. The redness you're experiencing could simply be a reaction to dry air (from air conditioning, for instance), sun exposure, or eye strain. Remedies for this could include wearing sunglasses when you're outside, using ample lighting while working indoors, and using eye drops that are meant to alleviate irritation. However, note that not all eye drops are the same. If you're using one formulated to address symptoms of allergies instead of irritation (or vice versa), that could be the reason they don't seem to be working.

Moreover, another possibility could be that you have allergies, many of which can cause eye redness. When particles of allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, and certain foods (such as peanuts), enter your body, your immune system recognizes them as foreign objects and activates antibodies to fight them off. This triggers the release of histamines, chemicals that control inflammatory response leading to typical symptoms such as sneezing, wheezing, hives, and red eyes. Some common quick fixes to reduce exposure to environmental allergens include:

  •  Avoid the use of down or wool bed covers that trap allergens.
  •  Wash bed linens weekly.
  •  Reduce indoor humidity with a dehumidifier or air conditioner.
  •  Keep your home free of dust and clutter.

List adapted from Mayo Clinic.

Furthermore, it may be beneficial to make an appointment with a health care provider, as they can best help pinpoint what is causing your eye redness. If you do decide to see a health care provider, they may perform one of two tests to check for allergies. The first is a skin prick test, which involves injecting a tiny amount of a variety of allergens on your forearm or upper back. After 15 minutes, they will check to see if there is any skin reaction. If there is, it will usually dissipate after a half hour. The other way to test a person's sensitivity to specific allergens is through blood tests. This test measures the amount of immunoglobulin E, an allergy-causing antibody, produced in your bloodstream when exposed to specific allergens. If you're diagnosed with an allergy, your health care provider might recommend over-the-counter oral antihistamines, prescription eye drops, or nasal sprays to help relieve your eye redness, and other allergy symptoms you may be experiencing.

With this information in hand, hopefully your reds will turn white!

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Last updated Jun 30, 2022
Originally published Dec 10, 2010

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