Why Do I Have a Red Ring Around My Iris?

It happens all the time, you wake up and notice your eye is red and you start to worry. There are many factors that can contribute to the redness. We get questions about eye redness a lot, and one of the most common is, “Why do I have a red ring around my iris?” Before you start to think of the worst situation possible, we would like to help explain more about red rings around your eyes.

Dean McGee Eye Institute’s (DMEIs) Kamran M. Riaz, MD will help explain common conditions and situations that may cause redness around your iris (the colored part of the eye) and when you should speak to your DMEI doctor about it.

Common Causes of Red Rings Around the Iris

There are numerous causes of “red eye” or “red rings” around the eyes. “The technical term for this condition is ciliary flush or perilimbal redness,”Dr. Riaz explains.

Some causes include contact lenses, bacterial infections, chemical exposures, or inflammation.

Contact Lenses

The age and material of your contact lenses, as well as wearing them too long or while you sleep, can cause red eye. As a soft lens ages, it dehydrates and shrinks in size, causing your contacts to fit too tightly. Certain lens materials have poor oxygen transmission, which affects your cornea and sleeping in lenses can magnify this affect.

Contact lenses that are too tight, worn too long, slept in, or ones that fit poorly can all cause hypoxia (decreased oxygen to the cornea) that creates a red ring around the iris, known as contact lens keratitis,” Dr. Riaz says.

It is also very important to keep your contact lenses clean to prevent other serious eye conditions. Remember to clean your contact lenses as recommended by your provider. Read our page on proper contact lens hygiene for more tips.


Conjunctivitis, commonly known as “pink eye”, can also lead to red rings around your iris. Red, burning eyes and a discharge characterize this condition. It can be caused by a viral infection (most common), bacterial infection, or an allergic reaction. The viral and bacterial types are very contagious.


Iritis, also referred to as inflammation of the eye, is another condition that could cause redness.

“Iritis is the inflammation on the inside of the eye that can cause redness in a ring-shaped pattern outside the eye,” Dr. Riaz says. The cause is often unknown. It can result from an underlying condition or genetic factor.

Environmental Causes

You may have encountered a substance that has caused an allergic reaction or irritation that in return could cause red rings around your iris. This is commonly referred to as contact dermatitis. Here are a few common substances that might cause eye redness:

  • Bathing and showering products
  • Lotions and other moisturizers
  • Sunscreen
  • Eye drops
  • Contact solution
  • Dust
  • Chlorine and other chemicals
  • Makeup
  • Hot or cold temperatures
  • Humidity or lack of humidity

If irritation lingers or worsens, call your DMEI eye doctor to see if you might need to make an appointment.

How Do You Get Rid of a Red Ring Around the Iris?

It all depends on the conditions listed above. “If it’s contact lens overuse or if the patient has been wearing the contact lenses for a few days, removing the contacts, using artificial tears, and resting their eyes can help,” Dr. Riaz says.

 “Bacterial conjunctivitis will need to be treated with antibiotics, and if iritis is causing a red ring around your eye, it will need to be treated by an eye specialist,” Dr. Riaz explains.

Try to eliminate environmental causes of red eye. If the condition is flaring, skip using makeup and harsh cleansers around your eyes. In addition, wash your hands frequently and avoid rubbing or scratching your eyes.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Dr. Riaz shared a useful mnemonic to help you know when you should go to the doctor for your condition. Remember RSVP: excessive redness, sensitivity to light, vision loss, pain, or pus from the eye.

Request an Appointment
If you cannot get the redness to go away on your own and believe you need to see an eye care provider, please request an appointment via the button below or give us a call at 405.271.6060 or 800.787.9012.

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