5 Serious Causes of Red Eyes

5 Serious Causes of Red Eyes

Redness in the eye, sometimes termed bloodshot eyes, can indicate a benign issue or something serious that requires emergency medical treatment. Understanding the difference between benign and serious conditions can help you determine when you need to see a doctor.

One good rule of thumb is that serious problems usually occur when you have redness along with pain and/or visual changes.

At Omphroy Eye Care, the office of Luis C. Omphroy, MD, in Aiea, Hawaii, we see all manner of red eyes at our practice. Because sometimes it may be difficult to know if your symptoms indicate a serious condition, we put together this guide on five of the serious causes of red eyes.

Some benign causes of red eyes

First, let's look at benign causes so you can see the difference when we discuss serious causes.


Seasonal or environmental allergies, such as those to pollen, pet dander, and cigarette smoke, can cause red and swollen eyes. You may also experience itching, burning, and increased tearing, as well as non-eye symptoms.

You can treat the allergies with antihistamines, either over-the-counter or prescription, as well as eyedrops that lubricate the eye’s surface.

Dry eyes

Tears are made by glands above the eyes and help protect and lubricate the eyes. If you don’t produce enough tears, or if your tears are of a poor quality, you have dry eye syndrome, which can cause redness, a sensitivity to light, and blurred vision that comes and goes.

Treatments include lubricating drops or a silicone plug in the tear duct in the corner of your eye to prevent the tears from draining.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage

If a blood vessel within your eye breaks, it can leak blood onto the surface of your eye, causing it to appear red. While it may look serious, the hemorrhage is often benign and resolves on its own in 1-2 weeks. People taking blood thinners or who have diabetes or hypertension are often prone to this condition.

Serious causes of red eyes

Here are five causes of red eye that require medical intervention.


When the membrane covering the insides of your eyelids and the white part of your eye becomes inflamed, the inflammation causes the whites to appear pink or red, leading to the common name of “pink eye.”

Conjunctivitis may be the result of viral infections, bacterial infections, allergies, or environmental irritants. If a viral or bacterial infection is the cause, the condition is highly contagious, and you require medical attention to resolve it.


Blepharitis is an inflammation of your eyelids, causing them or your eyes to appear red and swollen. It may occur if you have high amounts of bacteria on the lids or if the oil glands in the lids become clogged.

If not treated, blepharitis can lead to more serious symptoms, including the loss of eyelashes, eyelashes that grow in the wrong location, or blurred vision.


Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, an area located between the white of your eye and your retina. In addition to red eyes, it may cause blurred vision, pain, visual floaters, and a sensitivity to light.

Uveitis may be the result of:

Timely treatment is critical, as the condition can lead to vision loss if not managed.


Scleritis is an inflammation of the sclera, the white of your eye. Its development is often associated with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjögren’s syndrome. 

It can also happen due to an injury to the eye or an eye infection. Because it’s the result of an underlying medical problem, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible.

Angle-closure glaucoma

Glaucoma is a collection of conditions that raises the pressure in your eye. That pressure can damage your optic nerve and lead to vision loss.

One type is angle-closure glaucoma, where you experience a rapid increase in eye pressure that leads to red eyes, intense pain, halos around objects, headaches, and nausea or vomiting.

This type of glaucoma is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment to prevent vision loss.

Do you have red eyes but aren’t sure if it’s serious? Come into Omphroy Eye Care for an evaluation, diagnosis, and effective treatment. To get started, give our office a call today.

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