2 common causes of itchy eyes and ways to get relief

June 24, 2014

Are your eyes itchy and watering for reasons you can't figure out? Why not give them a break with these effective tips for soothing the irritation and banishing the redness.

2 common causes of itchy eyes and ways to get relief

The two most common causes

It’s little wonder that at some point everyone gets an insufferable case of ocular pruritus, otherwise known as itchy eyes. Caused by a long list of insults to your eyeballs, irritants that trigger your symptoms may include: air conditioning, dry weather conditions, fall leaves, household dust, or even springtime pollen trapped between your contact lenses and eyes.

So what are the two most common causes of itchy eyes and how can they be treated?


Allergies are notorious for causing your eyeballs to bug you in a most annoying way.

  • With allergies, your body releases histamines, a protein released by the immune system in response to an irritant. In turn, they cause your eyes to water, in the same way they cause your nose to run.

Runny eyes and nose are your body's way of trying to flush irritants out of your system.

  • The air around you is filled with millions of microscopic irritants. Although most are washed away by the eye's watery middle layer, which bathes away foreign particles, others are not.

People who most often appear to need mechanical intervention (such as using eye drops or an air-filtration system) include allergy sufferers, individuals with existing health issues, and women over 40.

Dry-eye syndrome

Dry-eye syndrome is the second most common reason eyes may become irritated. This syndrome is often caused often by an underlying medical condition.

  • Dry-eye syndrome can stimulate your tear glands to overproduce within the watery layer of your eyes, leading to a protective response that causes further itching.
  • In contrast if your eyes don't produce enough tears, or produce "poor quality" tears that don't sufficiently lubricate the eyes, itchy "dry" eyes may also occur.

Two effective ways to soothe itchy eyes

Whether due to allergies or dry-eye syndrome, the knee-jerk reaction to a maddening itch is usually frantic eye rubbing and the overuse of over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops, both of which offer only momentary comfort.

  • Frequent eye rubbing not only causes your eyes to itch more, but is also harmful to this very delicate area.
  • The extended use of OTC eye drops isn't necessarily the answer, either: many contain ingredients that can worsen already inflamed eyes with extended use.

For long-term, safe effective relief from irritated eyes, the two best things you can do are:

1. Avoid rubbing your eyes

Rubbing your eyes will intensify the itch and may increase your risk of an infection. When you rub your eyes you release histamines into the area, the same substance responsible for your itchy, watery eyes, thus creating a cycle of itchy, watery, puffy-redness.

  • Apply a cool, damp face cloth to your eyes. Let it sit for a few minutes as you relax in a comfy chair. You could even splash cold water on your face, which many people with allergies claim is a great way to temporarily alleviate some of the symptoms.

2. Limit the use of unprescribed eye drops

Over-the-counter eye drops contain antihistamines or vasoconstrictors. They're great for making the blood vessels in your eyes smaller and lessening their apparent redness, but not so great after a week’s use or more.

  • The blood vessels in your eyes tend to become dependent on the chemicals in the eye drops. After the drops are discontinued, the blood vessels often worsen in appearance because of a rebound effect called rebound hyperemia.

If itchy eyes are a persistent problem for you, it's always a wise move to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, rather than risk accidentally making matters worse. Speak to your family doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
Close menu