Why do my eyes feel itchy? Causes, symptoms, treatments.
Itchy eyes are often a response to an irritation caused by an allergen, or by the presence of a piece of dust or grit in the eye. Morag Lindsay, our eye health advisor, discusses the causes and additional symptoms of itchy eyes, and what treatments are available.
An introduction to itchy eyes
Itchy eyes occur when your eyes react to an irritant, triggering an immune response with the release of histamine (the cause of the itch). When this happens, the natural reaction is to rub your eyes, removing the irritant.
All of us will have experienced itchy eyes from time to time and these bouts are usually brought on by minor irritants such as a bit of dust, with the itch lasting for only a few minutes.
However, certain health conditions can cause your eyes to itch for hours, days or even months. Some of these may require attention, especially if they impinge on your daily activities.
Allergies causing itchy eyes
Allergies are the most common cause of itching in the eyes. Also known as allergic conjunctivitis, it is estimated that as many as 1 in 5 people suffer from eye allergies. The condition can be divided into two main categories:
Seasonal allergies – this is the most common cause of itchy eyes and is when your eyes are affected only at certain times of the year as they come into contact with and react to different allergens.
Hayfever is a classic form of a seasonal allergy and occurs as your body responds to pollen in the air. Different types of pollen affect people differently, so you may find that your eyes itch at different times from other people with the same complaint.
Perennial allergies – these are allergies which persist throughout the year. They are sometimes known as indoor allergies because house dust is a key cause of the symptoms.
House dust holds spores of fungus, mould or animal dandruff, and it is these substances that your immune system reacts to. You may also notice specific triggers that cause your eyes to become itchy, such as your favourite pet.
Other conditions causing itchy eyes
There are a variety of other conditions which could cause your eyes to itch:
- Foreign bodies – an eyelash or a piece of dust can cause your eyes to itch. An inflammatory response is set up, causing itching and your eyes water in an attempt to remove the foreign body from the eye
- Scratched cornea – there are times when the front surface of your eye becomes damaged. This can arise from an injury to the eye or a viral infection. The scratch is irritated each time you blink, leading to inflammation and itching
- Dry Eyes – this occurs when you do not produce enough tears to moisten, lubricate and protect your eyes. The result could be a reaction in your eye with inflammation and itching
- Eye Infection – certain types of organisms (viruses, bacteria or even fungi) can cause an infection in your eye and lead to itching. These infections can affect the whites of the eyes (known as conjunctivitis) or the front (cornea). Infections can also affect the eyelids (known as blepharitis). Eye infections are most common amongst contact lens users
- Contact lenses – wearing contact lenses can dry the surface of your eye and lead to itching.
Treatments for itchy eyes
Treating the cause of your itchy eyes will offer the greatest and most lasting relief. For example, if hayfever is the cause, then a remedy such as Pollinosan Hayfever Tablets will help bring relief.
If you know that certain allergens such as cat fur can trigger your itchy eyes, avoiding or limiting your exposure will ease your symptoms.
If your itchy eyes are the result of an underlying health condition, you must consult your doctor for advice and treatment.
Most people suffering from itchy eyes find relief from using eye drops containing lubricants such as A.Vogel Eye Drops containing Euphrasia. These drops have the advantage of also washing out any allergens or irritants which may be present.
When should I go to my doctor?
For most people, the cause of the problem will be obvious and symptoms tend to come and go without the need of any medical attention, especially if it is possible to avoid the irritant.
However, it is advisable to consult a doctor if:
- The cause of your itchy eyes is unexplained, if you are worried about your condition or if symptoms worsen
- You find that your vision is affected
- You think that your itchy eyes are the result of another medical condition
- You experience pain in your eyes.