Bloodshot eyes are common in children. Although the appearance may be alarming, many times the underlying cause is not serious. Redness can be caused by allergies, infection or irritants. See your pediatrician for an accurate diagnosis if your child has bloodshot eyes.
Chlorine from the swimming pool, pollen, pet dander or other small particles may irritate the surface of your child’s eyes and lead to redness. Extremely cold or dry air may also cause irritation and blood vessel dilation. If your child wears contact lenses, overuse may irritate the sclera, or if a piece of debris gets trapped under the lens, it may scratch the cornea, which may also lead to bloodshot eyes. If only one of your child’s eyes is bloodshot, the cause is most likely transference of an irritant from his finger.
Bacterial or viral infections may cause conjunctivitis, or pink eye -- swelling of the thin membrane that covers the eye and the inside of the eyelid. Viral conjunctivitis is the most common form and may be associated with a common cold. Your child may have bloodshot eyes accompanied by a watery clear or white discharge and may complain of sandpaper-like irritation or a burning sensation. Typically, one eye is affected first and may spread to the other 1 to 3 days later. The symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis are similar except discharge is more likely to be thicker and yellow, green or white in color.
Coughing or straining can cause blood vessels in your child’s eye to burst. In this case, redness will appear as a single bloody patch in one eye. It may look alarming, but usually there is no cause for concern unless your child feels pain associated with the redness. Redness typically clears up without treatment within 1 to 2 weeks.
Seek emergency medical assistance if your child has suffered an injury that involves penetration of the eye, complains of blurred vision, experiences moderate to severe eye pain, has constant tearing, appears confused, has a cloudy spot on her cornea, turns away from light, blinks continually, or has a headache in addition to bloodshot eyes. If your child’s eyes are bloodshot for more than 1 or 2 days, if she has yellowish or greenish discharge, or if she takes blood thinning medication, consult your pediatrician.
Your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine, decongestant or a topical lubricant to help relieve symptoms of viral conjunctivitis. For bacterial conjunctivitis, your child may need an antibiotic, which your doctor may prescribe in the form of ointment or drops. Medication may cause blurred vision for up to 20 minutes after application. Typically, treatment lasts 7 to 10 days and if your child has contact lenses, he should not wear them during this time.