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Soothing itchy eyes

Woman with itchy eyes caused by hay fever
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Having itchy eyes is a fairly common occurrence. If you have allergies, you work in front of a screen all day, or you wear contact lenses, you might find that your eyes get dry, red, itchy and watery. Itchy eyes can also be caused by minor infections and skin conditions like eczema.

Whatever the cause of your itchy eyes, there are a few different ways to treat your symptoms. Normally, it doesn’t require a trip to the GP – just to the pharmacy!

What causes itchy eyes?

Most of the time itchy eyes will be caused by allergies. During the spring and summer, an allergy to pollen (hay fever) can really affect the eyes. After spending time outdoors you might notice that your eyes are itchy, red and watery.

You might also experience irritated eyes if you have an allergy to dust mites, animal dander, mould, or workplace chemicals.

Other causes of itchy eyes include:

  • Blepharitis
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Eyelid dermatitis

Lifestyle factors like spending a lot of time looking at a screen or wearing contact lenses can also be a contributing factor.

Common causes of itchy eyes

How to relieve itchy eyes

Common treatments for itchy eyes include:

How you treat your itchy eyes will depend on what’s causing your symptoms. If you aren’t sure, the best thing to do is talk to a pharmacist or your GP.

Hay fever and other allergies

Itchy eyes caused by a mild allergic reaction (e.g. hay fever) can normally be treated with over-the-counter treatments. Your pharmacist can help you pick out a suitable product such as eye drops or antihistamine tablets. Eye drops will directly soothe irritation in the eye, while antihistamines will counter the effects of the allergic reaction.

You could also try a cold therapy mask to help relieve allergy symptoms including puffiness around your eyes.

You can also prevent irritation by trying to avoid the allergen that causes your itchy eyes. If you have hay fever, avoid leaving the house or having windows open on a day when the pollen count is high. If you have to go out, wear wraparound sunglasses to help protect your eyes.

Blepharitis (Eyelid inflammation)

Blepharitis causes pain in the eyelids, itching, redness, and a gritty feeling. You might notice flaking or crusting around your eyelashes, and find that your eyelids are stuck together when you first wake up.

If you think you might have blepharitis, you should clean your eyelids every day. The NHS recommends soaking a clean flannel or some cotton wool in warm water and placing this on your eyes for 10 minutes. When you’ve done this, you can clean your eyelids with cotton wool or a cotton bud.

You can also visit your pharmacist for advice about blepharitis. They should be able to recommend treatments like eye drops and wipes. If your symptoms don’t improve after a few weeks, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP.

Conjunctivitis (Pink eye)

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an eye condition that causes redness, itching, watering, and usually a gritty or burning feeling. If the cause is a bacterial infection, your eyes may also produce pus that sticks to your eyelashes.

You can treat conjunctivitis at home. If your eyes are producing pus, boil water then let it cool down. Dip a clean cotton wool pad in the water then wipe your eyes to gently remove any crusting, making sure you use a new pad for each eye. For conjunctivitis caused by allergies, you can put a cool flannel or a cooling mask over your eyes to soothe itching and discomfort.

A pharmacist can help with conjunctivitis by recommending appropriate eye drops. If the cause is an allergy like hay fever, they may recommend a treatment containing antihistamines.

If your symptoms haven’t gone away after two weeks, speak to your GP. Antibiotics can be prescribed for conjunctivitis caused by a bacterial infection. Prescription antihistamines may be offered if the cause is severe allergies.

Eyelid dermatitis (Eczema)

If you think your eye problems are being caused by eczema on your eyelids, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP. The standard treatment for eyelid dermatitis is a combination of emollients (moisturisers) and mild topical steroids, which will require a prescription.

Preventing itchy eyes

It’s not always easy to avoid irritating your eyes, especially if you have allergies, but there are a few steps you can take to limit your symptoms:

  • Try to avoid allergens like pollen, pet hair and dust as much as possible – using a HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner and keeping soft furnishings clean can help
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses when you go outside to avoid getting pollen in your eyes
  • Take breaks from screens throughout the day to avoid eye strain
  • If you wear eye makeup, make sure you take it off at night before you go to bed
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes!

Are itchy eyes a sign of COVID?

If you have itchy, sore or painful eyes, it could be a symptom of coronavirus. Some people with COVID-19 have reported symptoms of conjunctivitis, an eye condition that can cause itchiness and redness. It is unknown whether or not these symptoms are the direct cause of coronavirus, however research shows that 17% of COVID-positive patients experienced itchy eyes within two weeks of other COVID symptoms. A further 16% reported sore eyes and 18% experienced photophobia, or light sensitivity.

If you are concerned that you may have coronavirus, or have itchy eyes as well as other symptoms such as a fever, fatigue or loss of smell and taste, then you should take a COVID test. If you don’t have any other symptoms, then the cause of itchy eyes is likely due to hay fever, allergies or an existing eye condition which can be diagnosed by your GP or optician.