Itchy Eyes Explained
If you occasionally suffer from itchy eyes, then you’re not alone. Eye itchiness is one of the most common complaints optometrists hear from patients on a daily basis. This is especially the case in the 21st century with the increasing prevalence of electronic devices.
Thankfully, there are many proactive steps you can take to avoid dealing with this uncomfortable symptom. Let’s first take a closer look at the most common causes of itchy eyes. Later, we’ll explore a few of the best things you could do to manage this issue.
What Causes Itchy Eyes?
There are many potential causes for itchy eyes, in most cases, your eye is itching as a reaction to an irritant typical triggers of itchy eyes include:
- Hayfever - Pollen of grass, seeds, or trees can cause the eyes to itch and produce more tears
- Allergies - It is not uncommon for allergies such as peanuts to cause your eyes to itch
- Foreign body - Items such as dust, pet hair, or other fine particles can not only cause an allergic reaction, if large enough they can cause itching and pin even if you are not allergic to them
- Dry eyes - A disruption to your tear film can cause uncomfortable symptoms like burning, itching
- Bacterial infection - Infections such as conjunctivitis can cause itching, eye discharge, red eye, and eye pain.
- Make-up - If make-up enters the eye, even in small portions it can cause itchiness and watering.
Itchy Eyes & Allergies
Along with sneezing and coughing, eye itchiness is a standard allergic reaction. Usually, you’ll experience itchy eyes immediately after you’ve been exposed to some type of allergen, whether it be a seasonal allergen like pollen or perennial like pet fur, dust, or black mold. You could also experience itchy eyes if you’re allergic to certain foods like peanuts, shellfish, or eggs.
In addition to avoiding environmental triggers, common strategies for reducing allergic reactions include taking antihistamines, resting in a dark room placing a cool damp towel over your closed eyes, and drinking soothing herbal teas like Benifuuki Japanese green tea, Butterbur tea, Ginger tea and Turmeric tea. Getting more exercise, airing out your house, and taking warm Epsom salt baths are also great DIY remedies for allergy sufferers.
If allergic reactions are seriously affecting your day-to-day life, then your doctor might send you to an allergist. In addition to their expertise in allergies, most allergists are experienced with autoimmune disorders and asthma control. Your allergist will run a few tests to better understand your condition and they may prescribe medication to help treat your symptoms.
Beware Of Beauty Products
Related to allergic reactions, many people experience itchy eyes after using eye makeup. This is especially true if you use old or contaminated beauty products or lotions near the eyes.
It’s important for anyone who regularly uses beauty products on their face to keep all of their makeup in an area that doesn’t get too hot. You should always wash your hands before applying makeup and check that your products haven’t expired before using them.
To avoid eye contamination, never share your cosmetics with friends or family.
Itchy Eye Infection: Conjunctivitis
One slightly more serious reason you could be experiencing itchy eyes is conjunctivitis (aka “pink eye”). Usually caused by an allergen, bacteria, or virus, conjunctivitis is characterized by an inflammation of the eyes’ clear conjunctiva. In addition to eye itchiness, pink eye sufferers have pronounced red eyes, eye pain, and sometimes pus discharge.
Pink eye is a highly contagious disease that’s easily spread in environments where there are lots of children (e.g. school or daycare). It’s also very common to get pink eye during flu season.
Usually, pink eye goes away on its own after about a week or so. It’s important to get plenty of rest and drink a lot of water when recovering from pink eye. You could also use a warm or cool compress to decrease symptoms like eye itchiness.
If your doctor discovers you have a more serious case of conjunctivitis, then s/he may prescribe antibiotics or antivirals. Take these medications exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Could You Have Dry Eye Syndrome?
Do you frequently suffer from itchy eyes for no apparent reason? Are your itchy eyes accompanied by other symptoms like dry eyes, red eyes, or increased tearing? If so, then you might have some degree of dry eye syndrome.
People with this increasingly common disorder typically have a dysfunction in their eyes’ Meibomian glands. These glands are responsible for producing oils that help keep tears from evaporating. Patients with more severe cases of dry eye syndrome are usually classified as having Meibomian gland dysfunction.
Thankfully, there are many things dry eye sufferers can do to alleviate itchy eyes and other symptoms. The quickest solution to reduce dry eyes is to use over-the-counter drops once symptoms appear. Other helpful tips include getting plenty of sunlight, and looking away from electronic screens on a regular basis. Eating more omega-3 rich foods has been known to also help however a recent study confirmed that there are no proven benefits.
What Is Computer Vision Syndrome?
Computer vision syndrome refers to dry eye-like symptoms that are caused by staring at computers or smart devices for too long.
Anyone who regularly looks at an electronic screen at work or home should try to practice the 20-20-20 rule on a regular basis. Every 20 minutes, look at least 20 feet away from all screens for about 20 seconds, this simple strategy will help your eyes naturally rehydrate and reduce the need for eye drops.
Can I use Eye Drops for Itchy Eyes?
Over-the-counter eye drops can help relieve itchy eyes, but it will depend on the cause of the irritation as to whether they help or not.
Whilst over-the-counter eye drops may help some causes of itchy eyes like computer vision syndrome or a mild allergy, they won't help if you have a bacterial infection or a severe allergy.
If you are particularly sensitive to additives eye drops could increase your itchiness.
Since over-the-counter drops can mask an underlying eye condition if you regularly need eye drops or need to use them for more than a day or so it is best to speak with your optometrist or doctor to see it there is an underlying cause for your itchy eyes.
Should You Ever Rub Itchy Eyes?
You should never rub your eyes. Rubbing your eyes won’t get rid of itchy eye symptoms, and can make your problems worse.
One of the major problems with rubbing your itchy eyes is that you could introduce germs into your eyes or if a foreign body is in your eye you could scratch your eye further. Rubbing your eyes over time could also break your blood vessels and increase the chances your eyes will appear puffy and bloodshot. You also risk damaging your cornea every time you rub your eyes.
To safely remove eye itchiness, try washing your face with cool water or putting a clean, wet towel over your eyes. Whatever you do to find relief, try your best to avoid touching your eyes with your bare hands.
Concerned About Itchy Eyes? Contact Your Optometrist!
Although itchy eyes aren’t usually a serious threat to your vision, they can be annoying. Most often itchy eyes are due to allergens, computer screens, or underlying dry eye syndrome. While more serious conditions like bacterial infections could cause itchy eyes, these will also cause other symptoms including eye burning, pain, and tearing.
If you’re concerned about your itchy eye symptoms, then you should schedule an appointment with an optometrist. In rare instances, itchy eyes could be a sign of a more serious infection or underlying eye condition. Speaking with a certified eye doctor is always the best way to get to the root cause of your eye issues.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 26 Apr 2023, Last modified: 26 Apr 2023