Itchy Eyes: When to See a Doctor

Itchy eyes may seem like a fairly harmless consequence of something that will eventually go away. While this is often true, itchy eyes (also called ocular pruritus) can be indicative of more serious issues -- some of which can result in permanent eye damage. Here’s a look at when to see a doctor about your itchy eyes.


Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a type of allergy specific to allergens like dust mites, mold, pollen, and pet dander. Particles of the substance come into contact with the body, causing congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery, red eyes. While some people experience this only seasonally, when certain plants are in bloom, other people experience allergies year round -- and that’s a lot of itchiness. While these might not some very serious, it is an irritation you don’t have to live with. If over the counter medications haven’t been working or you can’t figure out what’s causing your allergies, talk to your doctor about more effective prescriptions or other options for managing itchy eyes. 


Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites can all cause eye infections like pink eye (conjunctivitis) and keratitis. In addition to the itchiness that often accompanies conjunctivitis you may also develop a discharge or crustiness, pain, tearing, or inflammation. While pink eye often resolves on its own, antibiotics can help speed up the healing time in bacterial conjunctivitis. Additionally, pink eye can be very contagious, thus seeking medical assistance can help minimize the spreading. Keratitis, on the other hand, is also characterized by pain, blurry vision, and sensitivity to light. Keratitis can eventually lead to serious complications, like vision loss. See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of the symptoms of keratitis to maximize treatment options. 


Dry eyes = itchy eyes. Unfortunately, dry eyes can also mean chronic issues. Dry eyes can not only be the result of issues with the eyelids, medications, damage to tear glands, or blockages of tear glands, but also of serious and chronic illnesses. According to the Mayo Clinic, Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, thyroid disorders, a Vitamin A deficiency, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and scleroderma can also cause dryness. 

Certain environmental conditions (like very dry or very windy weather) can make the moisture in your eyes evaporate more rapidly than normal, creating the dry conditions that cause itchiness. But this tends to subside, and the use of artificial tears often alleviates the problem -- at least temporarily, until you’ve returned to moister environments. However, if you have been experiencing long term dryness or long term dryness associated with fatigue, eyes that are consistently red, swollen, or irritated, or any other issues that don’t seem normal  -- even if they don’t appear associated with your itchy eyes -- make an appointment with your doctor to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes. 


Corneal abrasions or other eye injuries can also pave the way for itchy eyes. While the injury itself may cause some itching, burning, or discomfort, it can also lead to issues like keratitis. Furthermore, an injury in the eye can make it easier for bacteria and other pathogens to get into the eye, causing infection. While minor eye trauma generally heals within a day or two, more serious wounds or trauma in which the “weapon” might remain in the eye (such as sawdust) can cause lasting damage if the scratch is deep enough. If you are concerned about an eye injury, talk to your doctor about the best course of action to prevent complications.