What Causes Redness Around a Baby's Eyes?

Redness around a baby’s eyes can have many causes, ranging from allergies to bacterial infections to blocked tear ducts. Finding the root of the problem can help parents properly treat it.   

Baby boy with red eyes
Photo: Getty Images

Have you noticed redness around your little one's eyes? The skin around the eyes is among the most sensitive on the body, and redness may show up there before other places. Oftentimes it's triggered by irritation, a minor cold, or another virus, says Leah Alexander, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician in New Jersey. Sometimes, however, redness signals a condition that requires medical attention, such as a bacterial infection. Here are some common causes of redness around the eyes in babies and toddlers, and when to call the doctor.


If you're seeing red near your infant's eye area immediately following birth, it might be a birthmark or hemangioma. "A small splotch of redness on or near a baby's eye is referred to as an 'angel's kiss', or a cluster of capillaries that appear as redness on the upper eyelids within the first few weeks of life," says Dr. Alexander. "In most cases, they completely fade over time, and they are not associated with eye problems." That said, some types of birthmarks (such as port wine stains) can stick around for life.

Another common cause of redness around the eye in infants is a strawberry hemangioma. "This collection of blood vessels increases in size throughout the first year of life, after which it self-resolves," says Dr. Alexander. Hemangiomas only require treatment if they become large enough to obstruct vision, but in the vast majority of cases, they disappear over time.

Blocked Tear Duct

If you notice redness in or around your newborn baby's eyes that isn't present from birth, it might be caused by a blocked tear duct, says Madathupalayam Madhankumar, M.D., a physician with iCliniq. Other symptoms include pooled tears in your baby's eyes, tears that drain down their cheek and eyelid, and excess eye rubbing. Blocked tear ducts are common in infants, and they don't usually need treatment.

Eye Infections

In some cases, redness around the eyes comes from a bacterial infection. Newborns can develop these during the birthing process, especially if the parent has an untreated sexually transmitted infection, says Dr. Madhankumar. Blocked tear ducts and irritation (usually from antibiotic eye drops given at birth) can also cause neonatal conjunctivitis (pinkeye), says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That said, newborns aren't the only ones to develop pinkeye; older babies and toddlers can get it as well. Pinkeye can be viral (caused by a virus) or bacterial (caused by bacteria). Watch for the telltale signs: "Conjunctivitis can cause red, puffy, and watery eyes in children," says Dr. Madhankumar. He adds that bacterial pinkeye, which is more serious than the viral type , may also cause yellow discharge.

It's important to seek medical attention if you think your infant might have a bacterial infection, since these can lead to corneal scarring and vision loss if left untreated. Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. Also remember that eye infections are extremely contagious, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Allergies or Irritants

Especially in older babies and toddlers, eye redness is often caused by irritants. "Rubbing the eyes frequently could cause redness around the eye in babies, as could irritants like smoke, perfumes, sunscreens, and soaps," says Dr. Madhankumar.

Redness around the eyes can also signal an allergic reaction to dust, mold, hygiene products, or even food (such as cow's milk or eggs), says Dr. Madhankumar. Seasonal allergies might also be to blame; these usually become apparent after age 2. Allergies occur when a certain substance triggers an overactive immune response in the body.

Note that symptoms of eye redness and swelling may also be associated with eczema, which worsens with rubbing the eyes, says Dr. Alexander.

When to Call the Doctor

In rare cases, eye redness can signal a serious condition, including corneal ulcer, periorbital cellulitis (bacterial infection of the eyelids), uveitis (eye inflammation that affects the middle layer of the eye), and more. Dr. Alexander says you should consult a health care professional if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe eye pain
  • Vision or eyesight problems
  • Increased swelling, redness, and tenderness in the eyelids and around the eyes
  • Other symptoms of illness, like fatigue, malaise, and fever
  • A persistent white spot in the cornea (the clear 'window' at the front of the eye)
  • Irritation with exposure to light

The Bottom Line

In most cases, redness around the eyes isn't cause for concern. But knowing that it could be a sign of infection is reason enough to watch the redness closely. If you notice discharge, pain, fever, or other worrisome symptoms, it's best to seek medical attention for your child.

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