By: Dr. Keith Kantor
We often think of allergies also known as allergic conjunctivitis when we have itchy eyes. Most people typically toughen it out or take some seasonal allergy medications for temporary relief. This is more common in adults then children, if it goes untreated and there is a more serious underlying issue it can lead to complications and increase your risk for eye related diseases,(i.e. glaucoma and macular degenerative disease).
Common Causes of Itchy Eyes
Most of the time, some type of allergy causes itchy eyes. An irritating substance (called an allergen) — such as pollen, dust and animal dander — causes the release of compounds called histamines in the tissues around the eyes, which results in itching, redness and swelling.
Rubbing won’t help your itchy eyes. In fact, it can make things worse.
Eye allergies come in lots of shapes and sizes and can be seasonal or perennial.
Seasonal allergies cause what’s known as allergic conjunctivitis. It’s most common in the spring and fall and is caused by high pollen counts and exposure to outdoor allergens like grass and weeds.
Perennial allergies, on the other hand, are present all year long and are caused by things like mold and dust.
In some cases, a product you’re using can cause allergy-related itchy eyes. For example, some people develop allergies to their contact lens solution. Other products with ingredients that may cause your eyes to itch include: artificial tears used to treat dry eyes, makeup, lotions, creams and soaps.
Other Causes of itchy eyes
If (in addition to itching) your eyes are burning, the cause may be dry eye syndrome or meibomian gland dysfunction not allergies.
Similarly, if your eyelids are red and inflamed, you may have a condition called blepharitis, which is caused by bacteria and in some cases by microscopic mites that live on the eyelids.
If you wear contact lenses, itchy eyes can make lens wearing very uncomfortable. Sometimes, if you are wearing your contacts too long or don’t replace them frequently enough, this too can cause itchy eyes.
Because the causes for itchy eyes are so varied, if your symptoms are lasting, getting worse, or don’t subside when allergy season winds down, make an appointment with your eye doctor. Remember if the itching persists and is left untreated it can lead to serious eye diseases.
Treatment for Eye Irritation
Symptoms of itchy eyes sometimes can be alleviated with over-the-counter artificial tears or allergy eye drops. But in many cases, prescription eye drops or oral medications may be needed to provide relief. Some medications also may help you become less prone to attacks of itchy eyes in the future, especially if symptoms are due to seasonal allergies.
Applying a clean, cold, damp washcloth over your closed eyes also may help alleviate the severity of itchy eyes. The most effective itchy eye treatments are those that directly address the cause. For example, if your symptoms are associated with a dry eye condition, an allergy drop will be less effective for you than it will be for someone whose itchy eyes are due to seasonal allergies. For this reason, consulting with your eye doctor can be very helpful to determine the most effective remedy for itchy eyes.
Several different types of medications may help relieve ocular itching, but only your doctor will know which treatment or combination of treatments is most suitable for your particular needs. In some cases, itchy eyes can be cured with artificial tears or allergy drops. But in others, you may also need an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory medication and/or special eyelid cleansing products.
Above all, though it’s tempting, don’t rub itchy eyes. Rubbing releases more histamines that make the itching worse. It’s also possible to cause a corneal abrasion by rubbing your eyes too vigorously or introduce bacteria to your eyes that can lead to an eye infection.
Additional Home Remedies for treating itchy eyes
Add 1 teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers (or a teabag) to 1 cup of boiled water. Steep for 5 minutes, strain, let cool, and use as an eyewash. May also be used as a cold compress.
This is one of the most common remedies for eye irritation and inflammation. Cut two slices of cucumber, place in ice cold water for 10 minutes and place them on your closed eyelids for 10 more minutes. Cucumbers have powerful antioxidants and flavinoids that are thought to reduce irritation. Closing and resting your eyes also helps with overall discomfort.
Put a moist green or black teabag on the affected eye for several minutes. Repeat several times a day. If your eye is swollen, moisten the teabag with cool water. Tea contains bioflavonoids that fight viral and bacterial infections and can help reduce inflammation. The tannic acid in the tea will soothe the itching. A weak solution of tea may also be used as eyewash.
Drink Plenty of Water
If your eyes are irritated, your vision is blurry, and/or it feels like there is something in your eye, you are likely experiencing symptoms of dry eye. The best way to treat dry eyes is to rehydrate your eyes and your body by drinking a lot of water.
American Indians used witch hazel for inflammation. Use a gauze pad or cottonballs soaked in witch hazel as a compress over closed eyes. Witch hazel has astringent properties and will help reduce the swelling.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Mix 1 Tbsp pure apple cider vinegar with a cup of water. Use this mixture to wash your eyes by using a cotton ball. Use apple cider vinegar which contains malic acid which fights against bacterial infections.