Itchy Eyes: Causes, Remedies, and Treatment

woman with itchy eyes

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If you have itchy eyes, you’re not alone. Itchy eyes, also known as ocular pruritus, are a common problem and why many people eventually visit an eye doctor. The best way to treat itchy eyes is to know what is causing them to feel itchy. Here’s a closer look at the causes of itchy eyes and treatments.

Causes

Common Causes

Itchy eyes are most likely due to a variety of causes of irritation.

Allergies

Allergies don’t just cause symptoms like a runny nose and sneezing. About 40% of Americans experience eye allergies (also called allergic conjunctivitis) at some point. Eye allergies can be mild, or they can be severe enough to affect your quality of life and productivity.

Itchiness is a prominent symptom of eye allergies. Other symptoms of eye allergies include:

  • Burning in the eye
  • Clear discharge from the eye
  • Feeling your itchy eyes more when allergy triggers, such as pollen, are present
  • Redness
  • Respiratory symptoms such as congestion or a runny nose

However, it’s possible to have eye allergy symptoms and no respiratory symptoms.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome happens when your eyes don’t make enough tears to stay lubricated, or your eyes don’t make the right kinds of tears. Dry eye syndrome is very common and often goes undiagnosed by an eye doctor.

Among those over age 50, 3.2 million women and 1.68 million men are reported to have dry eye. However, you can have dry eye at any age.

Symptoms of dry eye, in addition to itchiness, include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Feeling as if you have something in your eyes
  • More difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Redness
  • A scratchy feeling in your eye

Constant use of electronics can contribute to dry eye syndrome. Other causes of dry eye include hormonal changes, certain medications, contact lens use, and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Contact Lenses

Contact lenses can sometimes feel itchy or irritating to the eyes, even when they are supposed to help you see better. A problem with the lens itself could cause itchiness.

For instance, the lens may have torn, and that’s why it feels uncomfortable in your eye. You may also develop an allergy to the lens material or the solution you use to clean the lens.

You may experience itchiness from your contact lenses for other reasons, including an allergy to something in your environment, such as dust or pollen. When you wear your contacts, it’s possible for that itchy feeling to become worse if your allergy trigger adheres to your contact lenses.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a condition that affects your eyelids. It can cause crusty dandruff-like flakes on your eyelashes. Blepharitis is caused by too much bacteria where your eyelids meet your eyelashes or by clogged oil glands near your eyelashes.

Your eyes may feel itchy, but you also will likely have eyelid symptoms, such as:

  • Itchy and irritated eyelids
  • Red eyelids
  • Swollen eyelids

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction

Your eyes have oil glands called Meibomian glands along the eyelid margin that release oil. This oil coats your eye surface and helps the water in your tears not evaporate.

Meibomian gland dysfunction happens when these glands do not release enough oil or the oil that they release is of poor quality. When untreated, Meibomian gland dysfunction can lead to dry eye or eyelid inflammation.

Symptoms of Meibomian gland dysfunction include:

  • Blurry vision that comes and goes
  • Burning
  • Crustiness around the eyes
  • Feeling like there is something in your eyes
  • Watering of the eyes

Eye Strain

When you focus on something for a long time, such as reading on a screen or driving, your eyes may get tired after a while. This is also called eye strain, eye fatigue, or asthenopia. Symptoms of eye strain include:

  • Feeling like your eyes are dry
  • Headache
  • Pain in your neck and shoulders, which is related to your body positioning while doing the task that has caused eye strain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Watery eyes

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

As the name suggests, pink eye causes your eye to appear pink or red. Pink eye can have different causes, including a bacterial or viral infection in the eye. Other symptoms associated with pink eye caused by an infection include:

  • Burning
  • Crusting around the affected eye or eyelid, particularly in the morning
  • Feeling as if there is something in your eye
  • Swelling of the tissue that covers the white part of the eye (called the conjunctiva)
  • Tearing
  • Watery eyes

If an infection causes your pink, itchy eye, it will likely affect only one eye, not both eyes, although it may spread to the other eye.

Irritation From a Foreign Object

It’s possible for objects as small as an eyelash, sand, or specks of dust to get in the eye and cause irritation. In addition to itchiness, other symptoms of irritation from something in the eye include:

  • Blinking a lot more than usual to try and get rid of what’s in the eye
  • Eye pain
  • Tearing

Rare Causes

There are a few uncommon causes of itchy eyes.

Broken Blood Vessel

A broken blood vessel in the eye may look scary, but it usually is not serious. A broken vessel in the eye causes blood to pool beneath the clear area covering the white part of your eye. The bleeding is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

You can see the blood, and sometimes it will spread around the eye. You may have no other symptoms from a broken blood vessel in the eye aside from the blood that appears and usually clears up within two weeks. Other times, you may experience itchiness or feel like something is bothering your eyelid.

Uveitis

The eye’s middle layer is called the uvea. Diseases that affect the uvea are referred to as uveitis. Uveitis can affect one or both eyes. Without treatment, uveitis can cause vision loss or blindness.

Symptoms of uveitis, in addition to itchiness of the eyes, include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain
  • Red eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Shapes in your field of vision called floaters
  • Vision loss

Dacryocystitis

When tears leave your eyes, they exit through an area called the lacrimal sac, located in the inner corner of your eye close to your nose. Dacryocystitis refers to an infection in the lacrimal sac.

Symptoms of dacryocystitis, in addition to itchiness, include:

  • Pain in the inner corner of the eye
  • Redness
  • Swelling in or near the inner corner of the eye
  • Tearing and discharge

Dacryocystitis can develop quickly, or it can be a chronic problem.

Treatment for Itchy Eyes

Although the treatment for itchy eyes will vary depending on the cause, there are some general recommendations. Here is more information on treatment for itchy eyes.

Avoid Rubbing Your Itchy Eyes

As tempting as it may be, you should avoid rubbing your itchy eyes. Here are a few reasons why:

  • If you have eye allergies, rubbing can release more histamine, which is a chemical released by cells in the body that is associated with an allergic reaction. When you rub your eyes, you could cause them to feel even itchier and more irritated.
  • You could mistakenly scratch your cornea with a fingernail. This could require medical attention.
  • Too much eye rubbing can lead to a condition called keratoconus, which causes blurry vision, double vision, and astigmatism (an irregular curvature of the eye).
  • As reiterated during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should avoid touching your face (including your eyes) so you don’t transmit germs.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Try some of these solutions:

  • Avoid what causes your itchy eyes. If allergies are what provoke your itchiness, then try to avoid your allergy triggers. If pollen causes an eye allergy flare, try to avoid going outdoors during mid-morning or early evening, when pollen counts tend to be highest.
  • Follow any instructions from your eye doctor on how to clean and store your contact lenses. Poor contact lens hygiene can make your lenses more irritating and can lead to an infection.
  • Cleanse your eyelids if you have blepharitis. Daily cleaning of your eyelids with water and baby shampoo can help to treat blepharitis.
  • Use a cold compress. This simple remedy can easily soothe itchy eyes. Immerse a clean washcloth in cool water, and place it over your eyes. Relax for 10 minutes. Reapply as needed.
  • Rest your eyes every 20 minutes if you are focusing on something intently, such as reading or using the computer. When you take a break, focus on an object that is at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Artificial tears can help soothe eyes that feel itchy due to dry eye or contact lens irritation. The tears also may help remove allergens from the eye.

Allergy eye drops with an antihistamine such as ketotifen or an antihistamine/decongestant such as naphazoline/pheniramine can help relieve itchiness caused by eye allergies. Make sure to follow any manufacturer recommendations on how often you can use these types of drops.

If your eyes are red, you may turn to anti-redness eye drops such as those with tetrahydrozoline, which makes the blood vessels on the eye’s surface smaller so your eyes appear less red. These drops may or may not help your itchiness, but they will help the redness associated with many of the causes of eye itchiness.

If you choose to use anti-redness drops, do so only occasionally. That’s because using them too often can cause you to over-rely on the drops, leaving your eyes redder in the long run.

Prescription Medications

Some prescription medications for itchy eyes include:

  • Antibiotic eye drops used for bacterial eye infections and blepharitis
  • Combination antihistamine/mast cell stabilizer eye drops such as olopatadine to help relieve eye allergies
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) eye drops to help relieve itching
  • Oral antibiotics for dacryocystitis
  • Steroid eye drops to treat dry eye, seasonal allergies, certain types of eye infections, and uveitis

When to See a Doctor for Itchy Eyes

Occasional eye itchiness is normal. If you have itchy eyes that are red, painful, or have discharge, see an eye doctor. If you have a bacterial infection, you’ll need to use prescription antibiotic eye drops.

If your itchy eyes are due to dry eye, allergies, or a more chronic problem, an eye doctor can help pinpoint the cause and explain various treatments.

A Word From Verywell

Itchy eyes can be irritating and can have many potential causes. It’s best to figure out what’s causing your itchy eyes so you can soothe them and feel better more quickly.

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Article Sources
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