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Top 6 Reasons for Eye Irritation

Eye irritation is a common complaint. If your eyes are red and irritated, you may wonder if you should see your eye doctor. The human eye is very good at telling us when something is wrong. The truth is, eye irritation can occur for several reasons.

This article presents several conditions that may be the cause. As always, it is best to seek the opinion of an eye care professional and avoid treating yourself if you are unsure of the condition.

Dry Eye Syndrome

If your eyes sting or feel dry and scratchy, you may have dry eye syndrome. This condition may occur when the tear glands don't make the right amount or quality of tears.

Dry eyes, or dry eye syndrome, is very common. It becomes even more common later in life. By age 65, we produce 65% fewer tears than at age 18. If you have dry eyes, your vision may be affected.

Sometimes a lack of tears and moisture can cause vision to be blurry.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is inflammation of the conjunctiva. This is a clear membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.

The most obvious symptom of pink eye is a red or "pink" colored eye. Inflammation causes small blood vessels in the conjunctiva to swell or increase in size. This causes a pink or red tint to the white of the eye.

We typically think of pink eye as a type of conjunctivitis that is contagious and caused by a virus. Yet bacteria and fungi can also cause pink eye. Treatment may include home remedies, over-the-counter drugs, and prescriptions.

Eye Allergies

Many people who say they have eye irritation are diagnosed with seasonal eye allergies. Eye allergies may cause significant discomfort, and interrupt daily activities with annoying symptoms, such as watery eyes. Eye allergies can feel miserable, as they affect vision and cause our eyes to itch uncontrollably.

The most important part of treating an eye allergy is avoiding the trigger causing it. The trigger is an substance that your body overreacts to, and it leads to the symptoms you feel.

One plan might be to stay inside when the pollen count is high, or during the times of day when pollen is at the highest levels. Keeping windows closed and using quality filters on air conditioners also may help to limit the triggers that irritate your eyes.


Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelid. It commonly causes red, crusty eyelids.

If you have blepharitis, your symptoms are likely most obvious when you wake up in the morning. You may find flakes of debris on the pillow or stuck on your eyelashes. 

This is quite common in both kids and adults. People who do not practice good facial and eyelid hygiene tend to develop blepharitis as well.

Corneal Ulcer

A corneal ulcer is an erosion or open sore on the surface of the cornea. These sores are common in people who wear contact lenses, especially if they wear them overnight.5

Many times, corneal ulcers can cause intense pain, light sensitivity, and redness. Some may cause a feeling of constant irritation instead.


Sometimes, eyelashes can grow in the wrong direction. The medical term for this is trichiasis. It may be very subtle and you may not even see it if you look in the mirror. But eyelashes can be very coarse, and they may scratch your eye with every motion or blink.

This seems simple but it can cause real damage to the cornea, the clear dome-like structure on the front part of the eye. The treatment is to remove the offending eyelash. It may grow back, though, because the eyelash growth cycle is about two to three months long.


Red, itchy, and irritated eyes are never comfortable. However, some reasons for the discomfort are more serious than others. It's important to see your healthcare provider or an eye specialist to find the cause and have your eyes properly treated.

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