UNDERSTANDING 8 CAUSES OF ITCHY EYES

When your eyes become itchy and red, you will do just about anything to relieve the irritation. But knowing the cause of your itchy eyes can help you find the right treatment and get some relief.

The differences between symptoms of allergy and infection, for example, are important to understand so you don’t make your condition worse.

The following are eight causes of itchy eyes and some possible treatment options, including home remedies and prescription medications.

SEASONAL ALLERGY

If you get itchy eyes around the same time every year, you may have a seasonal allergy to ragweed or something else that blooms and releases pollen during certain times of year.

One way to tell if you’re dealing with an allergy, as opposed to an eye infection, is that you’ll have other allergic reactions, such as sneezing and nasal congestion.

If your symptoms are especially serious every year, you may benefit from a prescription allergy medication. Because these medications can take some time to be effective, your doctor may recommend that you start taking them a few weeks prior to the onset of your allergy season.

PERENIAL ALLERGIES

Unlike seasonal allergies, perennial allergies are those you may have all year long. Things like mold, dust, and pet dander are among the more common perennial eye allergies.

You also may be allergic to certain products in your home. The contact lens solution you use may be irritating your eyes. Or, the soap or shampoo you use may be the problem.

To find out whether you have an allergy, an allergist can administer a skin test for specific allergens. Small amounts of allergens, such as ragweed or pet dander, are administered just under the skin to see if the skin around the injection site shows any kind of reaction. These tests are safe for most children and adults.

AIRBORNE IRRITANTS

Some people are particularly sensitive to smoke, diesel exhaust, or even certain perfumes. Avoiding exposure to these irritants is the simplest solution. Soothing eye drops or a cool, damp cloth over your closed eyes may help you feel better fast.

INFECTION

Your eyes are vulnerable to viral, bacterial, and fungal infections — all of which can bring on itchy eyes.

One of the more common eye infections is conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye because the white part of the infected eye turns pink. It’s very contagious and often accompanied by drainage from the affected eye.

Another possible eye infection is called uveitis, an inflammation of the iris — the part of your eye with color. Uveitis can cause eye pain and an extreme sensitivity to light.

Tears, which are a combination of water, oil, and mucus, keep your eyes moist and refreshed. For various reasons, your eyes may stop producing enough tears to keep your eyes from getting dry and itchy. One common cause is simply getting older. As you age, tear production tends to wane.

Likewise, conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to fewer tears. Certain medications list dry eyes as a possible side effect like antidepressants, birth control pills, decongestants and medications that lower blood pressure.  

EYESTRAIN

Staring at a computer for so long or a long time, or trying to read in a poorly lit area, can strain your eyes, causing them to feel itchy and tired. Driving for a long time, especially at night or on a bright, sunny day, can strain your eyes, too.

Eyestrain can also develop if you’re forcing yourself to keep your eyes open and remain awake when you’re tired. For some people, indoor heat or air conditioning can lead to strained, itchy, and irritated eyes.

CONTACT LENS USE

Keeping your contacts lenses in too long or failing to replace your lenses regularly can irritate your eyes, making them itchy and red.

If you wear contact lenses, remember to take them out at night and follow other basic lens care steps. Follow your doctor’s advice about how to care for your lenses and how often you should replace them.

BLEPHARITIS

Red and itchy eyes may result from an inflammation of the eyelids known as blepharitis. It occurs when the little oil glands at the base of your eyelashes become blocked. Sometimes just keeping your eyelids clean is enough to resolve blepharitis symptoms, which may also include watery eyes and swelling.

Blepharitis won’t usually cause vision loss, but it can be a chronic problem that leads to conjunctivitis and other complications. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications may be necessary to provide relief and avoid further problems.

The best treatment is to simply rest your eyes periodically. Itchy eyes can be caused by a number of things, some more serious than others. If you find that you have frequent red, itchy eyes, talk with your doctor about treatment options.

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