Eye Irritation: Causes and Remedies

Man rubbing irritated eyes

What to Do About Eye Irritation

Eye irritation is a common complaint, particularly during allergy season. Itchy, watery, burning eyes aren't just uncomfortable but can make reading, using your laptop, or even driving unpleasant or difficult.

Common Causes of Eye Irritation

It's difficult to find a solution to a problem if you don't understand the cause. Although eye irritation can be caused by many factors, these are among the most common causes:

Debris and Foreign Objects

A tiny piece of dust or sand may be responsible for your eye pain, light sensitivity, or the red, watery appearance of your eye.

What to Do About It. In many cases, rinsing your eyes with clean water will remove the stray object. If it doesn't, call your ophthalmologist as soon as possible. If you try to pry a stubborn object out of your eye, you may injure your eye and damage your vision.

Allergies

Sneezing and nasal discharge aren't the only symptoms of allergies. Allergies, whether they occur seasonally or year-round, could be the reason your eyes are red, watery, and itchy.

What to Do About It. Using eye drops or artificial tears can keep your eyes more comfortable. If over-the-counter products aren't helpful, your eye doctor may recommend prescription eye drops, oral antihistamines, or allergy shots. Decreasing your exposure to allergens by staying inside when pollen counts are high and using your air-conditioner can be helpful.

Uncomfortable Contact Lenses

Occasional eye irritation can be an issue when you wear contact lenses. Irritation may be due to seasonal allergies, allergies to your contact lens solution or lenses, dry eyes, or even inadequate cleaning. Approximately 40 to 90 percent of contact lens wearers don't follow the recommended care instructions for their lenses, according to a fact sheet created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to irritating your eyes, poor contact lens hygiene can cause a serious eye infection that could damage your vision.

What to Do About It. Treating seasonal allergies may help make your contacts more comfortable. If you think you're allergic to your solution or lenses, trying different brands or switching to daily wear lenses may be helpful. In some cases, eliminating eye irritation may be as simple as improving your cleaning habits. Be sure to use fresh solution every day and clean and dry contact lens cases after every use. Replace your contact lenses as recommended by your ophthalmologist.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Pink eye is a contagious infection or inflammation that affects the conjunctiva, the clear layer of tissue that covers the whites of your eyes and the insides of your eyelids. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection and spreads quite easily, particularly if you share washcloths, towels, bedding, or clothing with an infected person. Your eyes may look red or pink if you have conjunctivitis. Other symptoms include watering, itching, discharge, burning, or a feeling that something is stuck in your eye.

What to Do About It. Viral pink eye usually goes away when the cold, flu, or other illness that caused it gets better. Cold compresses may help decrease pain and discomfort. Bacterial conjunctivitis may require treatment with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. If your child has pink eye, the school may require you to keep him or her at home until the redness disappears.

Dry Eye

Dry eye is a common cause of red, irritated eyes. The condition can also blur your vision or make it feel as if something is stuck in your eye. Watery eyes may also be a dry eye symptom. If your eyes get too dry, tear production increases in an attempt to keep your eyes lubricated. Some people naturally have dry eyes, but the condition can also be caused by medication side effects, certain diseases, viewing digital devices for a long time, wearing contact lenses too long, or spending time outside on a windy or dusty day.

What to Do About It. Artificial tears and eye drops will help keep your eyes moist. If you wear contact lenses, be sure to choose dry eye products that are safe to use with your lenses. Taking frequent breaks when using digital devices or reading can also be helpful. If your condition is severe, your ophthalmologist may recommend adding tiny plugs to your tear ducts to prevent tears from draining away or surgery to close the ducts.

Are your eyes red, dry, itchy, or just plain uncomfortable? Contact our office and we'll schedule an appointment to find out why your eyes are bothering you.

Sources:

All About Vision: Common Eye Disorders

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: Eye Allergy

American Academy of Ophthalmology: What IS Dry Eye, 2/8/21

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Fast Facts

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