The Itch Factor: Reasons Behind Itchy Eyes and Finding Relief

If you’re one of the millions suffering from itchy eyes, knowing the cause can help you find the right treatment. But first thing’s first – resist the urge to rub your eyes! It may seem tempting, but rubbing or scratching them can worsen irritation by introducing more allergens, like pollen and pet dander, into your eyes. Continuous rubbing can also damage the topmost layer of the cornea, resulting in pain and infection perchance.

Common Causes of Itchy Eyes

Itchy eyes are common, but understanding the cause is crucial for relief.


1. Allergies

Over 50 million Americans have some form of allergy, whether seasonal or perennial. Seasonal allergies, often referred to as allergic conjunctivitis, occur when the eyes react to allergens such as pollen, pet dander, or mold spores. These allergens trigger the release of histamines in the body, resulting in inflammation, redness, and intense itching.

woman suffering from allergies

Avoiding contact with seasonal allergens is an effective but better-said-than-done way to reduce symptoms. Strategies include:

  • Keep the windows in your car and home closed during pollen season.
  • Monitor the local weather and try to stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
  • Wear a pollen mask before heading outdoors.
  • Take frequent showers and wear freshly washed clothes, especially before going to bed.

Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines can also help manage ocular allergies. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend prescription allergy medication.

Similarly, perennial or year-round allergies can occur due to contact with dust mites, mold, or pet hair. Consulting an allergist can help pinpoint specific allergens through testing. Once you identify the allergen, avoid exposure and take proper medications, including antihistamines or corticosteroids, to reduce inflammation.


2. Environmental Agitators

Exposure to smoke and pollution prevalent in busy cities or urban settings can easily lead to eye itching and redness. Moreover, occupational hazards, such as prolonged exposure to chemicals or airborne particles, can further aggravate the problem.

Avoiding exposure to environmental irritants is the simplest solution. Use of soothing eye drops or applying a cool, damp cloth over closed eyes can also help relieve symptoms.


3. Infections

Viral and bacterial infections are leading causes of itchy eyes. Viral infections like conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, can cause itching, redness, and discharge. Bacterial infections, which can also include conjunctivitis, can lead to similar symptoms along with pus formation and crusting around the eyes. Prescription antibiotics can treat conjunctivitis, although steroids may also be necessary in some cases.


4. Eyestrain

Intense use of your eyes, such as hours of staring at a bright screen or reading in a dark room, can cause eyestrain. Prolonged driving, especially during nighttime or under intense sunlight, can also strain the eyes, causing redness, itchiness, and fatigue.

man rubbing his eyes

Eyestrain can also develop when individuals exert effort to stay awake despite exhaustion, or due to exposure to indoor heating or air conditioning, leading to strain, itchiness, and irritation in the eyes.

The most effective remedy for eyestrain is to rest. For example, if driving exacerbates eye strain, pulling over and giving your eyes a break is advisable. Consider taking a short nap or allowing someone else to take the wheel, allowing your eyes to focus on nearer objects rather than the prolonged focus required on distant roadways or glaring headlights.


5. Contact Lens

Leaving your contacts in too long or using expired lenses can irritate your eyes, resulting in itchiness, redness, and potential infections. Ensure to remove them before sleeping and follow your doctor’s guidance on proper contact lens care and replacement.


6. Blepharitis

Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids. Its symptoms, including redness and itching, occurs when the tiny oil glands at the eyelash base become obstructed. Maintaining the eyelids’ cleanliness alone can often alleviate blepharitis symptoms, which might include watery eyes and swelling.

Although blepharitis typically doesn’t impair vision, it may persist as a chronic issue, potentially causing conjunctivitis and other complications. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications can help alleviate symptoms and prevent further complications.


7. Foreign Substance

Microscopic sand or dirt particles caught under the eyelid are enough to make your eyes itch. If it feels like something got in your eye, do not rub it. Again, rubbing or scratching can make things worse. Instead, rinse your eye with clean, lukewarm water to wash out the foreign material causing the itch. Tilt your head to the side and let the water from your faucet or shower run over your eye, or use a clean eyecup to pour water gently into your eye. If the itchiness persists, your eye hurts, turns red, or your vision changes, see a doctor immediately.


8. Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a predominant cause of chronic itchy eyes. This condition occurs when the eyes cannot produce enough tears (a combination of water, oil, and mucus) or when tears evaporate too rapidly. Consequently, the eyes become dry, irritated, and vulnerable to itching, burning, and a gritty sensation.

Aging and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes can also lead to dry eye syndrome. Dry eyes are also a possible side effect of some prescription drugs, including antidepressants, medications that lower blood pressure, decongestants, and birth control pills.

Treating dry eyes can be as simple as using OTC artificial tears or drops. If you have chronic dry eyes, you may need medicated drops from an eye doctor in Sun City, Arizona.


Further reading: Dry Eye Syndrome Relief in Arizona: Effects of Humidity and Cure


The Bottom Line

The causes behind itchy eyes can vary from minor irritants to infections needing medication. If you’re experiencing persistent redness and itching in your eyes, call Arizona Retinal Specialists at 623-474-3937 (EYES) for guidance on possible treatment options. You can also visit our clinic at 13624 West Camino Del Sol, Suite 200B, Sun City West, AZ 85375.


Don’t let vision discomfort hinder your quality of life. Schedule a consultation with us today for comprehensive care and support. Your eyes matter just as much as any other part of your body, and our ophthalmologists are here to ensure they receive the specialized attention they deserve.

NOTICE TO USERS is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on