Eye Irritation Causes & Treatments

15 sources cited
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What is Eye Irritation?

Eye irritation can happen for many different reasons. Your eyes are sensitive, so it is easy to irritate them. While some eye irritation may be due to a bigger health concern, eye irritation is not always serious.

12 Common Causes of Eye Irritation

Here are 12 common causes of eye irritation:

1. Irritants

Your eyes may be irritated due to irritants in the air or nearby on your things like clothes or sheets. Common irritants include dust, detergents, soaps, disinfectants, oils, perfumes, and solvents, among others.

2. Allergies

You may have seasonal allergies or be allergic to certain things that cause your eyes to feel irritated.

Allergies are very possible. More than 50 million Americans have experienced some form of allergies each year. In fact, allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the country.

3. Foreign Objects

You may have something stuck in your eye, which can cause it to be irritated. For example, you might have a fly or a piece of dirt stuck on your eye.

4. Computer Vision Syndrome

Blue light from computer screens and other digital devices can irritate your eyes over time, too. To avoid this, eye doctors recommend that, every 20 minutes, you look away from your screen and look at an object that is 20 feet away from you for at least 20 seconds.

5. An Eye Infection

An eye infection can cause eye irritation. You may develop an eye infection after touching your eyes with dirty hands.

6. Dry Eye Syndrome

If you have dry eyes, they may feel irritated. You may have dry eyes if you don’t produce enough tears. Artificial tear drops, however, can help.

7. Blocked Tear Duct

If you have a blocked tear duct, it can cause your eyes to feel irritated because they cannot secrete the oils and other fluids that typically flow from them.

8. Eye Stye 

A stye (also known as a hordeolum) is a small, red, and painful lump that can irritate your eyes. It grows on the base of your eyelashes or just under your eyelid, typically due to a bacterial infection.

10. Blepharitis

Blepharitis refers to an inflammation of your eyelids that is generally caused by either a bacterial infection or a skin condition like rosacea. This can make them turn red and become irritated and itchy. You may also develop flaky scales along your eyelashes.

11. Ocular Rosacea

Ocular rosacea refers to rosacea, which is a common skin condition, and it can occur in your eyes. Your eyes may become red, burn, and itch.

While doctors do not know why some people get rosacea, it may be genetic. It could also be caused by something in your environment, like tiny dust mites that can clog your oil glands. And some doctors believe that it occurs due to a condition that causes your blood vessels to swell. 

Some research has even shown a potential link between rosacea and the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which also causes gastrointestinal infections.

12. Glaucoma

Glaucoma refers to an eye disease that affects your eye’s optic nerve. It generally occurs when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye and increases the pressure in your eye. This is what damages the optic nerve.

Glaucoma may be more common than you think. In fact, it is a leading cause of blindness for people who are over 60 years old. Fortunately, blindness from glaucoma is typically preventable with early treatment.

Non-Eye-Related Conditions That Can Cause Eye Irritation 

You may also develop irritated eyes from non-eye-related conditions. Here are a few: 

1. Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches refer to headaches that come in groups, or “clusters.” They usually occur in a cycle of severe headache attacks that recur several times a day. Cluster headaches can last for weeks or months. And they may affect your eyes, too.

2. Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis may cause conditions such as dry eye, which prevents your eyes from producing adequate tears. This can lead to redness and irritation. Arthritis may also cause scleritis, which inflames the sclera, or white portion of the eye.

3. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

A common complication of MS is optic neuritis, which refers to inflammation of the optic nerve. Optic neuritis usually happens in one eye. It can cause pain with eye movement, blurred or dim vision, and loss of color vision.

Fortunately, in most cases, vision returns. That said, you may experience residual symptoms, especially if you are fatigued or overheated. Resting and cooling down typically help vision come back.

4. Brain Tumor (Rare) 

A brain tumor can also cause significant eye problems. For example, a brain tumor may lead to double or blurred vision, abnormal eye movements, a limited field of view, and other types of vision difficulties. All of these symptoms can cause eyestrain and irritation.

Other Possible Symptoms of Eye Irritation

Other possible symptoms of eye irritation include the following:

  • Eye pain
  • Eyestrain
  • Eye redness
  • Itchy eyes
  • Swelling of the eyes

Will Eye Irritation Go Away on its Own?

Some eye irritation will go away on its own. If your eyes are simply irritated due to pollen in the air or a mild allergic reaction to a scent, for example, it may go away on its own quickly. Even if you have a stye, you can typically treat this at home and resolve it within a few days to a few weeks.

If you have a more serious issue causing your eye irritation, you should visit an eye doctor for treatment.

Home Remedies for Eye Irritation

If you are experiencing mild eye irritation, flushing your eyes with water and using warm compresses can help. You may also use over-the-counter eye drops.

If your eye irritation is coming from staring at a computer screen or phone, blue light glasses may help.

When to See a Doctor for Eye Irritation 

You should see a doctor for eye irritation if it persists or gets worse over time. Your eye irritation may be due to a more serious concern. Your doctor will be able to diagnose the irritation and treat you.

Professional Treatment Options 

Professional treatment options for irritated eyes vary depending on the cause of your irritation. Your doctor may prescribe you medicated eye drops, glasses or contacts, medication to treat your allergies, or other treatments.

15 Cited Research Articles
  1. “AAFA.” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org/allergy-facts/
  2. “AAFA.” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/
  3. “Blepharitis.” AOA.org, www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-and-vision-conditions/blepharitis?sso=y
  4. Boyd, Kierstan. “Ocular Rosacea.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 30 Oct. 2020, www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/ocular-rosacea-facts
  5. Boyd, Kierstan. “What Are Chalazia and Styes?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 16 Dec. 2020, www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-chalazia-styes
  6. Boyd, Kierstan. “What Is Glaucoma?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 14 Dec. 2020, www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-glaucoma
  7. Brain Tumour Symptoms: Changes in Vision, www.thebraintumourcharity.org/brain-tumour-signs-symptoms/adult-brain-tumour-symptoms/changes-vision/
  8. “Dry Eye.” AOA.org, www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-and-vision-conditions/dry-eye?sso=y
  9. “Irritation.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 3 Feb. 2021, www.aao.org/eye-health/symptoms/irritation
  10. “The Itchy Eye: Diagnosis, Management of Ocular Pruritis.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 23 Mar. 2016, www.aao.org/eyenet/article/itchy-eye-diagnosis-management-of-ocular-pruritis
  11. Kuo, Irene. “Why Are My Eyes Itchy? Answers From an Expert.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/why-are-my-eyes-itchy-answers-from-an-expert
  12. Porter, Daniel. “Blue Light and Digital Eye Strain.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 18 Sept. 2020, www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/blue-light-digital-eye-strain
  13. “Understanding Cluster Headache.” American Migraine Foundation, 13 Nov. 2019, americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/cluster-headache-2/
  14. “Vision Problems.” National Multiple Sclerosis Society, www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Vision-Problems
  15. “Your Eye Concerns.” Bausch + Lomb. See Better. Live Better., www.bausch.com/your-eye-concerns/chronic-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis.
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