When your eyes are itching, you probably want relief soon—like…right now. But your first step to getting relief should be to find the cause of your itchy eyes. This will help you get the treatment that works. And it’ll prevent you from potentially making the itch worse.
We’ve got the lowdown on itchy eyes. In this guide, we’ll break down common causes and treatments, and even leave you with some handy tips for preventing itchy eyes in the future.
What Causes Itchy Eyes?
An allergy is an immune system response to certain triggers—known as allergens—that your body sees as threatening. And one such allergic response could be itchy eyes.
Allergies that cause a reaction in the eyes are often called eye allergies (shocking). The two main categories of eye allergies are seasonal allergies and perennial allergies.
Seasonal allergies: If you’ve noticed that both eyes tend to get itchy around the same time of year, especially in the spring or fall, you may have a seasonal allergy.
Another tip-off to a seasonal allergy is if you’re experiencing itchy eyes along with other symptoms, like sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, or a runny nose. Though they vary with geographical location, common seasonal allergens include tree pollen, grass, and ragweed.
Perennial allergies: Rather than showing up seasonally, perennial allergies can be a year-round presence in your life. Common perennial allergens include dust, mold, fungal spores, and pets.
Sensitivity to Irritants
People can also experience itching eyes because of irritants in the environment or in products they use:
- Environmental irritants: Certain environmental substances can cause some people’s eyes to itch. Typical culprits might include airborne irritants, such as car exhaust, perfume, or tobacco smoke. Irritants, like chlorine found in swimming pools, can also cause itching eyes.
- Irritating products: Ingredients in personal products, especially if they are used on or near your eyes, may cause itching. Irritating products might include eye makeup, lotion, or contact lens solution.
- Tiny bits of material: Random specks of dirt or sand in the eye can cause irritation and may lead to an itchy feeling.
Not replacing contact lenses or contact lens solution frequently enough, wearing contacts for too many hours at a time, or wearing dirty lenses can irritate eyes and make them itch.
If your eyes are dry, you might have a temporary decrease in the production of tears that keep your eyes lubricated. Or you may have been diagnosed with chronic dry eye syndrome. In any case, dry eyes will often itch, too.
Close-focused work, such as reading (especially in the dark or low light), needlecraft, or drawing, can cause eye strain. This can make your eyes feel tired and, in some cases, itchy. Additionally, reading on a digital screen can lead to a type of eye strain called computer vision syndrome (also called digital eye strain).
Conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye, is an inflammation of the clear membrane covering your eye and inside your eyelids. Pink eye can come from a viral or bacterial infection. And it can make eyes teary, crusty, and, yes—itchy.
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids. It can cause some uncomfortable symptoms like flaking skin around the eyes, red and swollen eyes and eyelids, and greasy-looking eyelids. And like pink eye, it can make eyes quite itchy.
A stye is a bump on your eyelid that can be painful and itchy. Usually, the stye is red, but it also could be pink, white, or yellow-ish. Styes can develop from a bacterial infection of one of the eyelid’s oil glands.
Some Skin Conditions
Certain skin conditions, like dermatitis or psoriasis in the eye area, can cause itchy eyelids and itching around the eyes.
Itchy Eyes Treatment
First, a word (okay, four words) of caution: Don’t rub your eyes. Though it’s probably tempting to scratch or rub your itching eyes, doing this can actually irritate them more. Constant rubbing may even lead to infection. Plus, if a contagious condition, like pink eye, is causing your itchy eyes, you can spread the condition by rubbing your eyes and not washing your hands before touching something else.
Your doctor may recommend an itchy eyes home remedy, medical treatment, or a combination. Let’s break down some (but not all) common solutions for itchy eyes.
Finding out why your eyes are itching will determine the best treatment option. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription eye drops. Most commonly used are artificial tear drops or antihistamine drops.
Oral Allergy Medication
If allergies are causing your itchy eyes, an eye doctor or allergist might suggest medication like antihistamines to be taken orally.
A cool compress can quickly relieve the itch, an easy itchy eye home remedy. To make a compress, soak a clean washcloth in cool water and wring it out before placing it over your closed eyes.
Itchy Eyes Prevention
Maybe you’ve heard the proverb “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That means the best way to cure something is to not get it in the first place. That’s easier said than done. But there are still steps you can take to prevent some of what causes itchy eyes.
Perhaps the easiest and most non-invasive itchy eye prevention method is to avoid what causes the itch. This may mean staying indoors during allergy season when pollen counts are high.
If your irritation stems from a personal product, consider using an alternative recommended by your doctor.
Keep Your Home Clean
If household irritants, like dust or mold, are causing itchy eyes, do your best to keep them to a minimum. For existing mold, consider enlisting a professional to help to eliminate it. A dehumidifier can also help to prevent mold, especially if you live in a humid climate.
To combat dust mites and pet dander, see if using an air filter or filtration system helps. Clean floors often, ideally with a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. You might also consider cleaning sheets and blankets more regularly.
Clean or Replace Your Contact Lenses
Not cleaning or replacing contact lenses, your contact lens case, and contact lens solution as directed can cause all sorts of symptoms and problems, including itchy eyes. Be sure to always handle your contacts with thoroughly washed hands and follow the proper steps for cleaning your contact lenses.
Replace contacts regularly according to your eye doctor’s recommended wear schedule. If your itchy eyes are related to wearing contacts, your eye doctor may suggest a different type of contact lens, such as disposable daily contacts. Or you might switch to glasses until the itchiness goes away.
Ditch the Itch—Visit Your Eye Doctor
Itchy eyes can range from mildly pesky to downright annoying. In some cases, itchy eyes can interfere with daily life.
It’s especially important to see an eye doctor right away if you are experiencing any of these eye symptoms along with the itching:
- Painful eye movements
- Sensitivity to light, also known as photophobia
- Vision loss
These symptoms could indicate a more serious eye condition. But even if you don’t have other symptoms, the best way to soothe the itch in your eyes is to get proper treatment. Scheduling an eye exam will start you on the road to relief.