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Itchy Eyes: Causes & Treatment

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 294 views

If your eyes itch , it’s very uncomfortable, but mostly harmless. As a rule, the itchy eyes go away on their own after a short time. However, you should not take it lightly – sometimes itchy eyes are also a sign of illness. What can be the reasons behind this? When do you have to go to the doctor? What helps against itchy eyes? Find out here!

quick overview

  • Causes : eg dry eyes, conjunctivitis, eyelid inflammation, chalazion, stye, sclera inflammation , corneal inflammation or injury, allergy, rash on the eye , Sjögren’s syndrome
  • When to the doctor? If the itching of the eyes persists without improvement, if accompanying symptoms such as fever, eye pain, discharge of secretions from the eye, severe reddening or visual disturbances occur, if there are foreign bodies in the eye (dust, chemicals, etc.)
  • Treatment : Depending on the cause, for example moisturizing eye drops, anti-allergic medication (antihistamines), antibiotics, appropriate visual aids, removing foreign bodies
  • You can do this yourself : relaxation exercises for the eyes, first aid for foreign bodies in the eye , home remedies (cold compresses, tea compresses)

Causes of eye itching

Itchy eyes are an annoying symptom that can have a variety of causes. In some cases, the cause is harmless: often it is dry eyes that start to itch. One of the tasks of the tear fluid is to moisten the cornea and conjunctiva . However, if you work at the screen for a long time, for example, moisturizing no longer works well – dry, itchy eyes are the result.

Itchy eyes are also very often caused by an allergy. In addition, there are many other possible explanations if the eyes are itchy or if a single eye is itchy. The most common causes overall are:

  • Eye strain (e.g. due to long screen work, incorrectly adjusted visual aids)
  • (long) wearing of contact lenses
  • Eye irritation from drafts, air conditioning, UV radiation, chemicals (eg chlorine, formaldehyde), cosmetic products
  • Foreign objects in the eye (e.g. dust, smoke, loose eyelashes or eyelashes that are still attached but misaligned)
  • Eye injuries (e.g. corneal abrasion)
  • age-related conjunctival changes
  • conjunctivitis
  • Blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)
  • Inflammation of the sclera (scleritis)
  • Inflammation of the cornea (keratitis)
  • stye
  • hailstone
  • Sicca Syndrome (Sjögren’s Syndrome)
  • rash on the eye
  • tumor diseases
  • Allergy (e.g. hay fever )
  • certain medications

Allergy: Eyes often affected

The most common cause of itchy eyes is an allergy. The conjunctiva lines the eyelids and covers the white of the eye. It contains numerous immune cells that can react sensitively to a large number of actually harmless substances such as pollen, mold spores or house dust mite faeces. The immune cells release chemical substances that trigger inflammation of the eyes – allergic conjunctivitis (allergic conjunctivitis) is the result.

Around 20 percent of all people occasionally suffer from allergic conjunctivitis.

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (hay fever) is widespread, i.e. conjunctivitis caused by pollen when the affected plants (trees, grasses, etc.) are in bloom. Most sufferers are plagued by itchy eyes and other allergy symptoms in spring or early summer.

If, on the other hand, the eyes itch more or less all year round, this speaks more for atopic conjunctivitis . This form of allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by allergens that are theoretically always present, such as animal dander (in the case of cat allergies, dog allergies), house dust mites (in the case of house dust allergies) or mold spores.

Male children and adolescents in particular who suffer from eczema, asthma or a seasonal allergy can also develop vernal keratoconjunctivitis . This is a simultaneous inflammation of the conjunctiva and the cornea, which occurs primarily in the spring and is very likely of allergic origin.

a common form and chronic allergic conjunctivitis are the most common types of allergic ocular reaction. Itchy eyes are therefore not uncommon for people with, for example, hay fever, house dust mite allergies or animal hair allergies (such as cat allergies).

Only rarely are signs of an allergy in the eye traced back to certain foods as the trigger.

The body can also react to contact lenses with itchy eyes. This does not necessarily have to be due to an allergy (i.e. a hypersensitive reaction of the immune system). Often a “simple” intolerance – without involvement of the immune system – is responsible for the itchy eyes. The same can happen with eye drops and ointments, for example.

rash on the eye

Another reason for the annoying itching can be a rash on the eye: The sensitive skin around the eyes can be affected by an inflammatory skin reaction (dermatitis) just like any other part of the body. The causes of a rash on the eye are in most cases eye drops, creams, lotions or other cosmetic products – it is then a so-called contact dermatitis .

Dermatitis can present with itching and a red rash under or around the eyes. The eyelids may swell, the skin may become scaly.

Itching on the eye: accompanying symptoms

Itchy eyes often do not occur alone. There are patients whose eyes burn and itch at the same time. It is also possible that one (single) eye is red and itchy. The most common accompanying symptoms of itchy eyes include:

Itchy Eyes: When to See a Doctor?

Although itchy eyes are unpleasant, they do not initially appear as a threatening symptom. However, if you cannot explain the itchy eyes or if it persists for a long time, you should consult an ophthalmologist. This is also advisable if these accompanying symptoms also occur:

  • eye pain
  • very red eyes
  • visual disturbances
  • discharge of secretions from the eye (purulent, watery, mucous)
  • Fever

Also, be sure to see an ophthalmologist if the itchy eyes are caused by a foreign body or pollutant in the eye. The same applies if you have an itchy eye or two itchy eyes after using eye drops or ointment.

Itchy Eyes: Investigations & Diagnosis

In order to be able to treat itchy eyes in a targeted manner, the doctor must determine the cause of the itching. To do this, he first conducts a detailed doctor-patient conversation to collect the medical history (anamnesis). This is then followed by various examinations as required.

anamnese

In the course of the anamnesis, the doctor can ask you the following questions, among others:

  • How long have your eyes been itchy?
  • Is the eye itching unilateral or bilateral?
  • Do your eyes itch all the time or only in certain situations?
  • Could foreign objects have gotten into the eye, eg dust, chemicals or other irritating substances?
  • Do you use medication such as eye drops or eye ointments?

investigations

After the medical history, a physical examination follows . The doctor looks at the head and neck for possible signs of a condition that could be causing the eye itching. Among other things, he pays attention to swelling, redness or other abnormalities in the area of ​​​​the eyes.

Of course, various eye examinations are essential for the diagnosis . The doctor checks, for example, the size of the pupils, the reaction of the eyes to incident light and eye movements. Other investigations that can reveal the reason for the itchy eyes include:

  • Eye test (to rule out eyestrain)
  • Slit lamp examination (to assess different parts of the eye)
  • Examination of the tear fluid
  • allergy test
  • Swab from the eye (if an infectious cause of the itchy eye is suspected)

Itchy eyes: treatment

What helps against itchy eyes? That always depends on the cause of the itching.

For example, eye drops that keep the eyes moist and supple can help with dry eyes . They don’t fight the cause (eg Sjögren’s syndrome) of dry eyes, but the symptom – itchy eyes.

In the case of bacterial conjunctivitis , the doctor prescribes a local antibiotic preparation in the form of eye ointment or eye drops. In addition or as an alternative, antibiotics in tablet form are sometimes used. This is necessary, for example, if a bacterial infection in other parts of the body has spread to the eyes.

If there is a viral inflammation of the eye – for example with herpes viruses ( eye herpes ) – the doctor will prescribe antivirals such as aciclovir. They inhibit the multiplication of the virus.

If your eyes are itchy because of an allergy , the causal treatment is to avoid the allergy trigger whenever possible. Hyposensitization is also possible in certain forms of allergy . To relieve acute allergy symptoms, the doctor prescribes antihistamines in the form of tablets or eye drops. They relieve itchy eyes (and other allergy symptoms) by inhibiting the release of the messenger histamine. In severe cases, the use of eye drops containing cortisone may be necessary.

If you have a rash on your eye , treatment depends on the cause. Special ointments and pads can be helpful. In severe cases, it may be necessary to treat the rash under (or around) the eyes with cortisone.

If the itchy eyes are caused by medication (eye drops, eye ointment, etc.), the doctor treating you will, if possible, prescribe a different preparation or adjust the dosage.

Never stop taking medication without consulting your doctor. You should never change the dosage of a preparation yourself.

If ametropia is responsible for your itching (and possibly burning) eyes, you need suitable visual aids – glasses and/or contact lenses.

If another condition is the cause of itchy eyes, it must be treated professionally so that the symptoms improve.

Itchy eyes: You can do this yourself

If wearing contact lenses is causing your eyes to itch and burn, you should take your glasses off for a while and wear glasses instead for a few days. Then the eyes can calm down.

If the itchy eyes are caused by cosmetic products, avoid using them if possible. It can also help to switch to products without perfume or artificial fragrances.

If your eyes burn and itch because they are irritated by long periods of screen work, eye relaxation exercises can help. Some examples:

  • Consciously look closely at things at different distances (keep your eyes sharp!).
  • Occasionally cover your eyes with your hands and let them rest for a few minutes.
  • Place your thumbs on your temples and use your index fingers to massage the top of your eye socket (from the bridge of your nose outward).
  • You should often close your eyes for a few seconds while working on the screen. You can also try to type a few sentences “blind”.

If your eyes are itchy because a foreign object has gotten into your eye, it is best to provide first aid . Superficial foreign bodies can be wiped out of the eye with a clean cloth. In the case of deep-seated foreign bodies and/or if there is also severe pain, you should always leave the treatment to the doctor.

If contact with chemicals is the reason for the itchy eyes, you should immediately rinse your eyes with clear water (except if you have caustic limescale in your eyes – rinsing out would make the chemical burn worse!). Then see a doctor immediately. If necessary, bring the relevant chemical (e.g. cleaning agent) with you so that, if necessary, special treatment measures can be taken.

Itchy eyes: home remedies

Home remedies often help against itchy, red and burning eyes and itchy eyelids. Place a cold compress on the eye or eyes. Cloths soaked in cold water and wrung out are suitable for this. Instead of water, you can also use cooled tea (e.g. made from chamomile , marigold or sage ). Or you can use a cooling compress from the freezer or a grain pillow (cherry stone pillow) from the freezer to place on the eye.

Never place cold compresses or cool packs directly on the sensitive skin around the eyes, but wrap them in a thin cotton cloth first.

Leave the compress (or similar) on the eye as long as you find the cold pleasant. It can often be effective in soothing itchy eyes. But take off the compress immediately if the cold becomes uncomfortable.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.

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