guy with itchy eyes

Understanding Itchy Eyes

Itchy eyes, or ocular pruritus, can be frustrating. Although they are often associated with allergies, there are many causes of itchy eyes. Here’s a look at common causes, co-occurring symptoms, and treatments of itchy eyes. 

Causes of Itchy Eyes

When itchy eyes are the result of allergies, the itch occurs because an allergen gets into the eyes -- much like allergies cause a runny nose. Pollen, animal dander, dust, and other allergens can all irritate the eyes, inducing the release of histamines; some of these occur only seasonally while others are in the air all year long. 

Dry eyes is another common cause of itchy eyes. Dry eyes is just what it sounds like -- your eyes fail to produce sufficient tears and other lubricants. Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea, the clear lens that covers the pupil and iris, helping direct light through the eye and protecting the eye from pathogens. Keratitis can be infectious (caused by bacteria, virus, etc) or noninfectious (caused by minor injuries, contact lenses, etc). 

Depending on the other symptoms accompanying your ocular pruritus, it may also be caused by pink eye. Also referred to as conjunctivitis, pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva around the eyelid and white part of the eyeball. This may be a result of allergies or infection, and may occur in either or both eyes. Overuse of the eyes leading to eyestrain can also result in itchy eyes as a result of overwork. 

Chronic issues that may cause itchy eyes include ocular rosacea and Sjogren’s syndrome. Ocular rosacea often appears in people who have rosacea, which causes rashes on the skin of your face. The exact cause of ocular rosacea is unknown, but the Mayo Clinic surmises that “heredity, environmental factors, bacterial involvement, blocked glands in the eyelids, and eyelash mites” can all play a role in the development. Certain triggers, such as spicy food, stress, or extreme temperatures, may influence the sudden onset of ocular rosacea. Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease characterized by dry eyes and a dry mouth. The mucous membranes in the mouth and glands that are responsible for moisture in the eyes fail to produce sufficient moisture. The dryness of the eyes can make them itchy. 

Symptoms of Dry Eyes

Although each cause of itchy eyes comes with its own specific symptoms, some of the symptoms particular to the itchy-eye aspect of the disease in question are fairly general. For example, while itchy, watery, red eyes may be common throughout disease, a runny nose and cough are specific to allergies, while dilated blood vessels in the eyeball is specific to ocular rosacea. Although itchy eyes generally comes to mean that the eyeballs themselves feel itchy, it is often the case that the eyelids are affected too -- in fact, itchy eyelids can be indicative of even further potential causes of itchy eyes, such as blepharitis. In any case, common symptoms associated with itchy eyes include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Redness of eye and eyelids
  • Inflammation of eyelids
  • Blurry vision
  • Discomfort while wearing contact lenses
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pain, irritation, or sensation of something in the eye
  • Discharge or crustiness
  • Difficulty keeping the eyes open

Treatments for Itchy Eyes

The best treatment for itchy eyes is largely dependent on the underlying cause. Eye drops can be efficacious in many situations, although the active ingredient in the eyedrop may vary. Antihistamine eye drops can be effective for itchy eyes resulting from allergies, as they help reduce the production of histamine. Managing your allergies in general may be the best itchy eyes remedy, though. Antibiotics are useful in many situations -- they can reduce inflammation caused by dry eye, treat bacterial keratitis and conjunctivitis, and ocular rosacea. 

Dry eye may be effectively treated through various forms of tear generation or replacement. Some issues, like noninfectious keratitis and some forms of pink eye, will heal on their own given time. Eye strain requires allowing the eyes to rest, and getting appropriate corrective lenses. Some medications control allergic reactions, helping treat allergies, hay fever, and allergic conjunctivitis. If you’ve been experiencing itchy eyes, talk to your eye doctor about the best course of treatment. 

Last Updated: January 03, 2017