woman using eye drops to help with her dry itchy eyes

Dry Eyes vs. Itchy Eyes: What's the Difference?

Dry eyes and itchy eyes are not necessarily distinctly different issues, but neither are they the same. Both are generally symptoms of an underlying issue with the eyes or other systems. The major difference is what causes dry eyes or itchy eyes and the fact that dry eyes cause itchy eyes -- but generally not the other way around. 

Dry eye is caused by immune system issues, too little moisture, or moisture that evaporates too quickly. Sjogren’s syndrome is a chronic disease that affects the immune system. It generally starts by attacking the glands that produce saliva and tears. The ducts in the eyes can also develop problems. This may be a result of direct damage to the glands -- however, growing older, certain diseases, laser surgery, and some medications can also cause dry eyes. Tears that evaporate too quickly may be because of excessively dry climates, insufficient blinking, problems with the eyelids, or an incorrect composition of the fluid that makes tears. 

Itchy eyes, or ocular pruritus, on the other hand, have a whole other set of causes. Certain infections, like keratitis and conjunctivitis (pink eye), make the eyes itchy and crusty. Allergies are a common culprit as well. The immune system sometimes marks substances like mold, dust, and pet dander as “dangerous;” when these substances come into contact with the eyes, the body produces histamine, which makes for itchy eyes. People with rosacea, a chronic red facial rash, may also develop ocular rosacea, which makes the eye itchy. Developing dry eyes, for any reason, may also make the eyes extremely itchy. Talk to your eye doctor about ways to keep dry or itchy eyes under control. 

Last Updated: February 21, 2017

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