Itchy eyes are very common, affecting almost everyone at some point. Though a bit uncomfortable, itchy eyes aren't generally a cause for concern. The itchiness can be due to a number of different causes, including allergies or wearing contact lenses

What causes itchy eyes?

Causes include:

• An allergy to house-dust mites and/or pets (can occur when your eyes react to tiny airborne particles inside your home. They’re also called perennial allergies because they occur year-round)

• Hay fever and seasonal allergies (hay fever is triggered by an allergy to pollen. You may be sensitive to some types of pollen and not others)

• Giant papillary conjunctivitis (this is uncommon and can be related to wearing contact lenses)

• Contact conjunctivitis (some people have an allergic reaction to cosmetics, eye drops or other chemicals)

• Blepharitis (a common condition where the edges of the eyelid become red and swollen)

How are itchy eyes treated?

Treatment can vary depending on the cause of the itchy eyes. It generally helps to:

• Stop wearing contact lenses until symptoms have gone away and for 24 hours after the last dose of a drop or ointment (ask your optometrist for advice regarding wearing lenses with itchy eye symptoms)  

• Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this can cause more inflammation

• Avoid the cause of the allergy (for example, stay away from animals if they trigger your symptoms)

If symptoms are mild, they're likely to go away on their own without treatment. If symptoms are severe or persist, visit your GP or local optician, who may prescribe eye drops or tablets.

Treating allergies

Eyedrops including antihistamine eye drops and mast cell stabiliser eye drops are commonly used. They can help keep symptoms away until the cause of allergy is removed. If your eyes are very swollen, it may take a few days for eye drops to ease your symptoms. Your pharmacist or optometrist can give you advice on which eyedrops may help you.

If you have severe allergies, your doctor may refer you to an allergy specialist, who may be able to recommend other treatment options.

Treating blepharitis

If you have blepharitis and are experiencing crusty eyelids and lashes, a daily eyelid-cleaning routine can help ease symptoms. There are three main actions that should be carried out. In order, these are:

• Every morning and evening, clean your eyelids to remove dirt and bacteria, as well as any excess oil. You can buy specialist wipes and solutions to help you with this

• Using a warm compress – this will make the oil in the glands around your eyes more fluid. This should be completed as directed, generally a few times a week

• Massaging your eyelids to encourage the oil out of the glands. This should be completed as advised, usually in combination with the warm compress

If your symptoms worsen or persist after using home treatments, visit your GP or eye specialist. More severe cases may require antibiotics that are applied to the eye or eyelid.

If you feel your eyes are sticky or crusty due to infection, and symptoms persist, your should visit your pharmacist or GP.

Next steps

• If you have itchy eyes, identify the cause – is it a pet allergy? Hay fever? Blepharitis? Ask your pharmacist for advice if you're unsure

• Use at-home remedies, such as not rubbing your eyes or avoiding the source of the allergy, to treat itchy eyes. Ask your pharmacist for advice on products that may help

• If symptoms worsen, visit your GP or optician who may prescribe medicine such as eye drops, tablets or antibiotics depending on the cause of the itchy eyes