Itchy Eyes? Is it An Allergy or An Infection?

28 Apr 2021

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Most of us experience eye itchiness and irritation occasionally, but in most cases the problem is minor and resolves quickly. However, there are times when it causes considerable discomfort, making it hard to even get through your day. This symptom of eye itchiness is described as ocular pruritus and it is one that is easy to overlook. When itching is persistent or severe, it becomes important to identify the underlying cause so that it can be treated appropriately. Although most commonly associated with eye allergies and exposure to irritants, there are not the only itchy eyes reasons. 

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10 Reasons why your eyes are itchy

Seasonal allergies

If eye itchiness tends to surface during a specific season each year, it is most likely a seasonal allergy that is triggered by exposure to pollen or mold that proliferates at certain times of the year. If this is the cause you may also experience symptoms like sneezing and congestion.

Perennial allergies

These are allergies that persist throughout the year and can be one of the common reasons for itchy eyes. Irritants like pet dander, cosmetics, and dust are common triggers for such allergies. If this is one of the main eye irritation reasons for your problem, avoiding exposure to irritants will resolve the problem. 

Airborne irritants

It’s fairly common for some people to have higher sensitivity to smoke, air pollution, particulate matter, and aerosol sprays or perfumes. It’s easy to make this connection and the simplest solution is to avoid exposure and use eye drops or a cool compress to relieve irritation. 

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a skin condition that you may not associate with eye itchiness, but it is one of the less known causes of itchy eyes in some people and is also associated with the risk of keratoconus and retinal detachment (1). As it causes dryness and scaly skin and can also develop around the eyes, this can trigger eye itching. 

Dry eye syndrome

One of the common causes of itch eyes includes dry eyes syndrome, in which the lack of tear production and moisture can leave the eyes more vulnerable to irritants and inflammation (2)

Meibomian gland dysfunction

Another one of the less known reasons for itchy eyes is Meibomian gland dysfunction, which is a condition in which these glands that are situated in the eyelids suffer from blockages or developmental abnormalities, therefore producing inadequate oil to help tears maintain moisture levels. 

Blepharitis

An inflammatory condition that affects the eyelids, this is often caused by a staphylococcal bacteria infection and is one of the common reasons for itchy eyes (3). The body produces antigens to fight the infection and this response also causes inflammation of the eyelids. 

Improper Contact lens 

Poor hygiene and sleeping with contact lens care can result in infections and may even cause damage and scarring of the cornea (4). This can be one of the itchy eyes reasons if you are a contact lens user. 

Eyestrain

This is probably the most common of all causes of itchy eyes because of the amount of time we spend in front of digital screens. It can also be triggered by excessive exposure to bright sunlight or reading in dim lighting. This can also happen with inadequate sleep.

Giant papillary conjunctivitis

This is a condition in which large bumps develop under the eyelids and it is most often the result of an allergic reaction that may also be triggered by contact lens use, atopic keratoconjunctivitis, or exposed sutures. 

Treatment:

Treatment will always depend on the underlying reasons for itchy eyes. This can be best identified by being more mindful and with the help of an ophthalmologist. Some steps that you can take to relieve the problem of eye itchiness include:

  • Avoiding exposure to common irritants like dust, smoke, fragrances, and cosmetics
  • Using humidifiers if you use air conditioning or are in an environment with dry air
  • Using air purifiers at home to reduce levels of airborne pollutants
  • Following a balanced diet to maintain adequate intake of vitamin A, omega-3 fats, and eye protective nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin
  • Using protective eye goggles when working with machinery that increases levels of sawdust, sand, or any particulate matter

Other treatments include:

Eye drops

OTC eye drops can be used to relieve allergies and irritation and you can also use certain types for artificial tears to relieve dry eye irritation and itching. 

Cold compress

A cool compress with cotton swabs soaked in chilled water or rose water can be dabbed over the closed eyelids to relieve itching and inflammation. 

Medical Treatment

If the problem does not respond to home treatment or causes severe discomfort, you should consult your doctor. If the problem is associated with entry of a foreign object, infection, or presents symptoms like severe pain and vision impairment, you should visit an ophthalmologist immediately. 

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7262807/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3306104/
  3. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/blepharitis
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6732a2.htm

Recommended Reads:

  1. https://www.setu.in/blogs/lifestyle/how-you-can-prevent-eye-floaters/
  2. https://www.setu.in/blogs/lifestyle/tips-to-take-care-of-your-eyes-when-you-wfh/
  3. https://www.setu.in/blogs/habits/maintaining-20-20-vision-in-2020-my-personal-hacks/
  4. https://www.setu.in/blogs/habits/natural-ways-to-improve-your-eyesight-do-they-work/
  5. https://www.setu.in/blogs/lifestyle/home-remedies-to-fix-puffy-eye/

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