The worst thing about waking up with red, bloodshot eyes isn't the fact that they instantly make you look sick and/or hungover. It's that usually they're accompanied by itching (if it's allergies or irritation) or a headache (if you maybe had too much wine the night before). In short, bloodshot eyes aren't fun—particularly if you're already not feeling great.
We spoke to Andrew Iwach, M.D., a fellow at the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the Executive Director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco, to see how to prevent and deal with red eyes. Of course, if your symptoms are unusual or they last for longer than a few days, Iwach says to contact your ophthalmologist. But for cases that aren't serious, you can pretty easily remedy red eyes without a trip to the doctor.
Below, we've round up the best ways to deal with red eyes straight from an expert.
Try a Warm Sock Compress
Specifically, use a cotton sock filled with uncooked rice that's been microwaved. It sounds weird, but it's an effective option. It works because it provides gentle heat over a longer period of time rather than, say, a warm washcloth, Iwach explains. "Heat actually helps the oil go through the glands," he says, which helps reduce irritation. Make sure you know what the sock is made of, though—if there are a great deal of synthetics like plastic woven throughout, the sock will melt.
If you're not a fan of creating your own, you can also try to keep a couple of these self-heating eye masks around.
Take a Break From Your Smartphone
When you don't blink enough, your eyes aren't properly lubricated, which can cause redness. If you spend a lot of time on your phone or computer, try taking "blink breaks" every few minutes to keep the moisture balance of your eyes intact. Similarly, you can get "screen sickness" that will leave you feeling awful—it's the same as carsickness, but you get it from scrolling.
Take Breaks From Wearing Makeup
Unfortunately, according to Iwach, your makeup could be causing your red eyes. And he doesn't just mean makeup like eyeliner and mascara. Even your face powder could be a culprit. Try weaning yourself off of different products one at a time for several days and take note of the state of your eyes to pinpoint what's bothering you.
Wear Sunglasses When You're Outside
This feels intuitive, but some people don't love the look of sunglasses, so they grin and bear it without paying attention to the damage the sun might be causing. If you're dealing with red eyes, it's time to let that notion go.
Make Sure Your Eyes Are Totally Clean
Iwach notes that you should definitely make a point to clean the base of your lashes, as this can be where irritants congregate. Iwach explains that there are oil glands along the margins of your eyes and that sometimes this oil accumulates and acts like flypaper for irritants—not just makeup—that cause red eyes.
Apply Cucumber Slices
Iwach says that laying slices of cucumber on each eye works in a similar way to the cool washcloth. Pro tip: place your cucumber slices in the fridge beforehand for maximum cooling relief.
Use Artificial Tears
The most obvious—and probably least time-consuming—option is to use artificial tears (AKA eyedrops). Iwach calls them the safest, simplest solution for irritated eyes because they can help flush irritants out of your eyes and also help combat dryness.