After waking up in the morning from a night’s sleep, you may have noticed red, bloodshot eyes staring back at you in the bathroom mirror.
In some instances, your eyes may look bright red or pinkish. They may also appear to be filled with squiggly red or pink lines. These are blood vessels, which normally aren’t visible.
Many conditions can cause blood vessels in the eyes to dilate and swell after waking up. Some of them aren’t any cause for alarm, but red or bloodshot eyes in the morning can be a sign of something more serious.
In this article, we’ll examine the causes of red eyes in the morning and help you identify when medical treatment is required. We’ll also provide some at-home treatments that can be used when red eyes aren’t a medical emergency.
The sclera, or whites of your eyes, are filled with tiny blood vessels. If these blood vessels become dilated or swollen, red eyes will result, especially upon waking.
Red eyes upon waking can often be alleviated by changing lifestyle habits. It’s important, however, to distinguish between nonemergency causes of bloodshot eyes and more serious conditions that have red eyes as a symptom.
|Nonemergency causes||More serious causes|
|computer vision syndrome||uveitis|
|lack of sleep||nocturnal lagophthalmos|
|dry eye syndrome||subconjunctival hemorrhage|
|drinking alcohol to excess||blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)|
|environmental irritants||conjunctivitis (pink eye)|
There are plenty of reasons for red eyes upon waking that aren’t considered serious.
Computer vision syndrome
Staring at digital devices for 2 or more hours in a row can cause eye redness. If you do this late at night, you may wake up with red eyes every morning.
Computer and digital device use strains the eyes significantly because you tend to blink less when staring at screens. This, in turn, reduces the amount of moisture in the eyes, causing redness.
Like computer vision syndrome, other causes of eyestrain can result in morning eye redness. These include driving long distances at night or trying to read in dim lighting.
Lack of sleep
Everyone burns the midnight oil now and then, and red eyes upon waking are often a result. Not getting enough sleep reduces the amount of lubrication and oxygen in the eyes, causing temporary redness to occur.
Dry eye syndrome
During sleep, your eyes may reduce their production of lubricating tears. This can lead to dryness and redness upon waking. In people with dry eye syndrome, red eyes in the morning may be more pronounced for this reason.
Drinking alcohol to excess
If you have one too many the night before, you may wake up with red eyes. That’s because alcohol is a diuretic that dehydrates the body, including the eyes.
Air pollution such as dust, cigarette smoke, ash from fire, and car exhaust, can irritate the eyes, causing them to turn red. Dry air that lacks humidity can also irritate eyes.
Pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens can cause itching, redness, and tearing. Whether your allergies are seasonal or year-round, taking an over-the-counter antihistamine may help.
When red, bloodshot eyes in the morning are the symptom of a medical condition, there are typically other symptoms you can look out for as well.
Symptoms that should always trigger medical attention include:
- pain in the eye
- intense red or pink color that doesn’t dissipate for over a week
- blurry or double vision
- changes in vision
- sensitivity to light or halos around light
- nausea and vomiting
- eye discharge
Some of these symptoms are associated with the following conditions:
The uvea is the eye’s middle layer and the part of the body that supplies the retina with blood. People with uveitis have swelling of the uvea.
There are many causes for this condition, which causes severe red eyes as well as pain, blurriness, dark floaters (floating spots in your vision), and sensitivity to light.
It can become a serious threat to your vision and requires a doctor’s care.
Sleep apnea causes sudden fluctuations in blood pressure and oxygen levels, which can affect the blood vessels in the eyes.
Inflammation and redness may result. Over time, retinal damage can also occur from this condition.
If you have other symptoms of sleep apnea, such as headaches, irritability upon waking, or forgetfulness, see your doctor.
This condition causes your eyelids to not close completely during sleep. It may be a symptom of serious conditions that require a doctor’s care. These include Bell’s palsy and autoimmune diseases.
In addition to red eyes in the morning, symptoms of nocturnal lagophthalmos include pain, irritation, watery eyes, and a gritty feeling in your eye that feels like a foreign body.
This condition is caused by a broken or leaking blood vessel in the eye. It can be caused by a number of things, including an injury to the eye or intense coughing.
If you’ve had an eye injury, see your doctor to rule out serious complications. Subconjunctival hemorrhage doesn’t hurt, but it may cause the eye to feel scratchy or full. It usually clears up on its own, without treatment.
Blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)
Blepharitis may be caused by a wide range of irritants, bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It may also be caused by several underlying conditions.
In addition to red and inflamed eyes upon waking, blepharitis can cause itching, sensitivity to light, and crusts on the upper eyelids.
Since these symptoms can signal a serious infection, see your doctor immediately to determine the root cause. Steroidal or lubricating eye drops are often prescribed for the treatment of blepharitis. Antibiotics may also be prescribed.
Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
Conjunctivitis is an eye inflammation that can be bacterial, viral, or allergic. It causes redness, itching, pain, and oozing in one or both eyes. It can also cause your eyelashes to crust over, making it hard to open your eyes in the morning.
If you suspect that you have conjunctivitis, see your doctor. Bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with antibiotics. Viral conjunctivitis is treated with warm compresses and lubricating eye drops.
Acute glaucoma can occur upon waking or during the day and is caused by a sudden, rapid increase in eye pressure.
It’s typically accompanied by pain. It’s a dangerous threat to your eyesight, so if you believe you have it, seek immediate medical attention.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the body’s tissues, including the tissues of the eye’s outer layer. Red, dry eyes often result.
If red eyes are accompanied by RA symptoms such as joint pain, weakness, unintended weight loss, or flu-like symptoms, see your doctor.
In emergency cases, treating red eyes in the morning will be done under a doctor’s supervision.
For nonemergency causes of red eyes in the morning, multiple at-home treatments can be used to soothe the affected area, including:
- resting with your eyes closed while applying cold compresses
- warm compresses, if you have an infection
- taking antihistamines for allergies and reducing allergic triggers
- using lubricating eye drops such as artificial tears
To prevent red eyes upon waking, you can try:
- reducing contact lens use during the day and not sleeping with your contact lenses in your eyes
- eliminating screen time at night
- avoiding secondhand smoke and other environmental irritants
- washing your bedding frequently
- keeping your bedroom free of allergic triggers, such as dust, dust mites, and pet dander.
Red eyes upon waking are a common occurrence that can be caused by lifestyle choices, nonemergency conditions, or serious health issues.
Most causes of red eyes can be treated at home, but some conditions that present with red eyes require medical attention.