Itchy eyes: Causes and cures
Almost everyone experiences itchy eyes from time to time. There are many causes of itchy eyes, and the problem often is accompanied by itchy eyelids — especially at the base of the eyelashes — and red eyes or swollen eyelids.
The medical term for itchy eyes is ocular pruritus ("proo-RIE-tus").
This article will help you learn more about itchy eyes and how you can get relief. (Spoiler alert: rubbing your eyes won't help.)
Causes of itchy eyes
Most of the time, itchy eyes are caused by some type of allergy. An irritating substance (called an allergen) — such as pollen, dust and animal dander — causes the release of compounds called histamines in the tissues around the eyes, which results in itching, redness and swelling.
Eye allergies come in lots of shapes and sizes and can be seasonal or perennial.
Seasonal allergies cause what's known as allergic conjunctivitis. It's most common in the spring and fall and is caused by high pollen counts and exposure to outdoor allergens like grass and weeds.
Perennial allergies, on the other hand, are present all year long and are caused by things like mold and dust.
In some cases, a product you're using can cause allergy-related itchy eyes. For example, some people develop allergies to their contact lens solutions. Other products with ingredients that may cause your eyes to itch include:
Artificial tears used to treat dry eyes
Medicated eye drops for chronic conditions like glaucoma
Lotions, creams and soaps
If you wear contact lenses, itchy eyes can make lens wear very uncomfortable. Sometimes, if you are wearing your contacts too long or don't replace them frequently enough, this too can cause itchy eyes.
Because the causes for itchy eyes are so diverse, if your symptoms are lasting, getting worse, or don't subside when allergy season winds down, make an appointment with your eye doctor.
Treatments for itchy eyes
Symptoms of itchy eyes sometimes can be alleviated with over-the-counter artificial tears or allergy eye drops. But in many cases, prescription eye drops or oral medications may be needed to provide relief.
Some medications also may help you become less prone to attacks of itchy eyes in the future, especially if symptoms are due to seasonal allergies.
Applying a clean, cold, damp washcloth over your closed eyes also may help alleviate the severity of itchy eyes.
The most effective itchy eye treatments are those that directly address the cause. For example, if your symptoms are associated with a dry eye condition, an allergy drop will be less effective for you than it will be for someone whose itchy eyes are due to seasonal allergies. For this reason, consulting with your eye doctor can be very helpful to determine the most effective remedy for itchy eyes.
Several different types of medications may help relieve ocular itching, but only your doctor will know which treatment or combination of treatments is most suitable for your particular needs.
In some cases, itchy eyes can be cured with artificial tears or allergy drops. But in others, you may also need an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory medication and/or special eyelid cleansing products.
Above all, though it's tempting, don't rub your itchy eyes. Rubbing releases more histamines that make the itching worse. It's also possible to cause a corneal abrasion by rubbing your eyes too vigorously. Eye rubbing anso can introduce bacteria to your eyes that can lead to an eye infection.
SEE RELATED: Why you should never rub your eyes
Page published in March 2019
Page updated in September 2021