Top 6 Reasons for Eye Irritation

Is it allergies or something else?

Eye irritation is a common complaint. If your eyes are red and irritated, you may be wondering whether you should see your eye doctor. The human eye is very good at telling us when something is wrong. The truth is, eye irritation can occur for several reasons. If your eyes are red and irritated, one of the following conditions may be to blame. As always, it is best to seek the opinion of an eye care professional and avoid treating yourself if you are unsure of the condition of your eye.

Six common reasons for eye irritation
Illustration by Jessica Olah, Verywell.

Dry Eye Syndrome

If your eyes feel dry, have a stinging sensation, or feel scratchy, you may have dry eye syndrome. Dry eye syndrome is a condition that can occur when the tear glands don't produce the correct quantity or quality of tears.

Dry eyes or dry eye syndrome is actually very common and becomes even more common as we age. At age 65, we produce 65 percent fewer tears than at age 18. If you suffer from dry eyes, your vision may even be suffering.

Sometimes a lack of tears and moisture can cause vision to be blurry.


Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a clear mucus membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. The most obvious symptom of pink eye is a red or "pink" colored eye. Inflammation causes small blood vessels in the conjunctiva to swell or increase in diameter, resulting in a pink or red tint to the white of the eye. We typically think of "pink" eye as a type of conjunctivitis that is contagious and caused by a virus. However, bacteria and fungi can also cause conjunctivitis. Treatment can include home remedies, OTC therapies, and prescriptions.


Eye Allergies

Many people complaining of eye irritation are diagnosed with seasonal eye allergies. Eye allergies sometimes cause significant discomfort, often interrupting daily activities with annoying symptoms, such as irritation or watery eyes. Eye allergies can feel miserable, as it affects vision and causes our eyes to itch uncontrollably. 

The most important part of treating an eye allergy is to develop a treatment plan designed to remove the trigger causing the allergies. The trigger is an antigen that your body has become allergic to, the stimulus that activates the symptoms you feel.

One plan might be to stay inside when the pollen count is high, or maybe to avoid going outside during certain times of the day when pollen counts are at the highest levels. Keeping windows closed and using quality filters on air conditioners may also help to alleviate the triggers that irritate your eyes.



Blepharitis commonly causes red, crusty eyelids. If you have blepharitis, your symptoms are probably most noticeable upon awakening in the morning. You might wake up with flakes of debris on your pillowcase or stuck on your eyelashes. Blepharitis is incredibly common in both kids and adults. Also, people who do not practice good facial and eyelid hygiene tend to develop blepharitis as well.


Corneal Ulcer

A corneal ulcer is an erosion or open sore on the surface of the cornea. Corneal ulcers are common in people who wear contact lenses, especially if they wear them overnight. Many times, corneal ulcers can cause intense pain, light sensitivity, and redness. However, some ulcers can smolder and don't really hurt that bad, but they can cause a feeling of constant irritation.



Often times our eyelashes can become misdirected or grow the wrong direction. The medical term for this is trichiasis. Sometimes this can be very subtle, and you may not even see it looking into a mirror. However, eyelashes can be very coarse and they can act like needles scratching your eye with every eye movement or blink. This is simple, but it can cause some significant damage to the cornea, the clear dome-like structure on the front part of the eye. The treatment is to epilate or pull the offending eyelash out. They tend to grow back in about two to three months because the eyelash growth cycle is about two to three months long.

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