Many factors can cause itchy eyes, including allergies, eye strain or infection. Depending on the cause of itching, it can be accompanied by other symptoms, like soreness, redness, crusting or headaches. Once you have identified why your eyes are itchy, you can find ways to prevent or treat the symptoms.
Eye itching in the corners of the eye
It’s common to experience itching in the inner or outer corners of the eye. A minor eye infection or allergy can cause irritation and itching. It’s usually nothing serious, but if you experience other symptoms, like inflammation or pain, get it checked by your GP.
Why are my eyes itchy?
Allergies are the most common cause of itchy eyes. Pollen typically causes seasonal allergies, while pet dander and dust mites can cause allergies all year round. When your body encounters these allergens, the immune system releases histamine that acts on the blood vessels and nerves in the eye, causing itching and redness (Source: NIH). This reaction is called allergic conjunctivitis.
An eye infection like conjunctivitis can cause pus, crusting, irritation, and itchy eyes.
Blepharitis due to a blockage of the oily glands of the eyelids may also cause swollen itchy eyes with crusting along the edges of the eyelids.
The tissue of the eyes and eyelids is very delicate and easily irritated. Inflammation to this area could be due to an allergy, infection, a foreign body or substance in the eye, all of which may cause itching.
Tired, strained eyes can become dry and sore, often leading to itching.
Dry, itchy eyes
Dryness and itching often go hand in hand. Anything that reduces your blinking rate can cause dry eyes, including staring at a screen, reading and driving long distances. Tears give the eyes the vital moisture and nutrients they need to stay healthy, so as your eyes become drier, they become irritated and itchy. Tear production also slows down as we age, so people over 50 are more likely to experience dry eyes (Source: NHS).
What causes itchy eyes?
Allergies are a common cause of eye itching, although any irritant can have the same effect.
Some other causes include:
Itchy eyes with other symptoms
Other symptoms alongside itchy eyes can help reveal the cause of irritation.
- Sneezing or a runny nose could indicate an allergy.
- Itchy eyes with headaches suggest eye strain.
- Exudate, crusting or sticky eyes can be due to an eye infection.
Itchy eyes and hay fever
Hay fever results from a sensitivity to pollen that irritates the airways and activates a mild allergic reaction. Up to one in five people will experience hay fever at some point (Source: NHS Inform).
Along with itchy eyes, hay fever also causes itching to the nose, throat and mouth. Other common symptoms include a runny nose, headaches, sneezing, coughing and earache (Source: NHS).
Springtime is peak allergy season in the UK as pollen levels rise, so your allergy symptoms may worsen around this time, sometimes lasting through the summer.
How to stop itchy eyes
Most causes of itching are minor and reversible, so your itchy eyes will return to normal once the problem resolves. However, there are ways to soothe the irritation at home in the meantime:
- Use a washcloth over the eyes for relief
- Remove contact lenses
- Limit screen time to give your eyes a rest
- Take regular breaks if driving long distances
- Avoid smoky environments
- Stay indoors during high-pollen season
- Maintain good eye care if you’re pregnant or have diabetes
Itchy eyes treatments
If your eyes don’t start to ease after a couple of days, speak to your GP or eye doctor, as you may benefit from treatment. Potential treatment options include:
Frequently asked questions
Itchy eyes are generally nothing to worry about and often result from a minor irritation or allergy. However, if the itchiness persists, is accompanied by signs of infection or inflammation, or you’re worried about your eye health, see your GP or optometrist. You may need topical medication to help ease your symptoms.
Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 06/09/2022
Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.