Why are my eyes itchy?
Is there anything more irritating than having sore, itchy eyes? Itchy eyes aren’t fun, and they can be even more bothersome if you don’t know what’s actually causing the problem.
If your eyes have become irritated out of nowhere and you’re not sure why, we’ve listed some potential causes below so you can take action and start feel better in no time.
You’re suffering from allergies
One of the most common causes of itchy eyes is seasonal and perennial allergies. Seasonal allergies are caused by exposure to substances, like grass pollen or weed pollen, that only appear at certain times of the year. This is referred to as hay fever and it’s an extremely common problem that affects many of us during the spring and summer months.
Perennial allergies are caused by substances that can affect us all year long like dust mites, mold and pets.
Both seasonal and perennial allergies cause itchy eyes when the body releases a chemical called histamine which then causes the blood vessels in the eyes to swell, resulting in redness and itchiness. If your itchy eyes are caused by an allergy, you may also have other symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy throat and/or a headache.
Allergies can be addressed by identifying the trigger and removing it from your home, if possible. If it’s an allergen that’s hard to avoid, like pollen, there are plenty of over-the-counter allergy treatments available such as antihistamine tablets and eye drops.
You have an infection
Just like the rest of the body, our eyes can be prone to bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Conjunctivitis, sometimes called pink eye, is a common eye condition that is often caused by an infection.
If you’ve got conjunctivitis, you may experience the following eye symptoms:
- Gritty feeling
- Pus that sticks to lashes
- Watery eyes
Conjunctivitis generally gets better by itself in a couple of weeks, but there are a few things you can do to help. Try using a cold flannel on your eyes to cool them down and make sure to wash your hands regularly to prevent spreading the infection to other people.
You could also try eye drops that are designed to relieve the symptoms of eye conditions like conjunctivitis. If you think you have an eye infection but you’re not sure what’s caused it or how to treat it, speak to your GP for expert advice.
Your eyes are dry
If your eyes are itchy, dryness could be the problem. Dry eyes can affect anyone for a number of reasons including ageing, climate, computer screens and certain medical conditions.
You might be suffering from dry eyes if your eyes are feeling:
- Sensitive to light
They might even be more watery than usual because they’re producing excess tears to compensate for the lack of lubrication. If you think your itchy eyes could be caused by dryness, there are plenty of eye drops and mists available without a prescription that could help them get back to normal.
You’re straining your eyes
Eyestrain is another potential cause of itchy eyes. This is actually becoming an increasingly bigger problem with so many of us staring at screens all day at work and in our free time. It’s also common in people who regularly drive long distances.
Some of the signs and symptoms of eyestrain are:
- Sore, tired and itchy eyes
- Burning eyes
- Dry eyes
- Blurred vision
- Sore neck, shoulders or back
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating on objects
- Sensitivity to light
To prevent straining your eyes, try to take regular breaks from screen time or driving, adjust the lighting in your home so it’s not as bright and use eye drops if your eyes are feeling dry.
Also make sure you’re getting regular vision tests, generally every two years, to make sure you’re wearing the correct eyewear for your eyesight.
You wear contact lenses
Itchy eyes are often a frequent problem for people who wear contact lenses. If you don’t routinely replace your lenses enough or you keep your contact lenses in for too long, your eyes can easily become irritated and this will cause them to become itchy.
Contact lenses can also tend to cause dry eyes, a problem that will usually lead to itchiness. You may also have an allergy to the contact lens solution you’re using to disinfect your lenses, or your lenses themselves might just be a poor fit.
If you think your itchy eyes are caused by your contact lenses, try replacing them regularly if you aren’t already, taking more frequent breaks or changing your contact lens solution.
If none of this helps, speak to your optometrist so they can look into the problem and see if there’s anything wrong with your contact lenses.
You suffer from blepharitis
Blepharitis is a condition that causes red, swollen and itchy eyelids. It’s not usually a serious condition, but it can lead to dry eyes, cysts, conjunctivitis and other problems if it’s not managed properly.
The symptoms of blepharitis are:
- Sore eyelids
- Itchy eyes
- A gritty feeling in your eyes
- Flakes or crusts around the roots of the eyelashes
- Red eyes or eyelids
- Eyelids sticking together in the morning when you wake up
When these symptoms flare up, they can be managed by cleaning your eyelids at least once a day and avoiding contact lenses and eye makeup. Try soaking a flannel in warm water and holding it in place on your eye(s) for 10 minutes, followed by gently massaging your eyelids for about 30 seconds. Then gently clean your eyelids using cotton wool or a cotton bud with water.
Speak to your GP if your symptoms don’t improve after a few weeks of regularly cleaning your eyelids - they may recommend antibiotic creams or drops.
Itchy eyes are a nuisance, but they’re usually nothing to worry about and there are plenty of treatments available for a wide range of potential causes. If you’re still not sure what’s causing your itchy eyes, you should make an appointment with your GP so they can find out what the underlying problem is.