Itchy eyes
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When a person’s are constantly itchy eyes, there may be two reasons why. One of the most common reasons is allergies and the other is pinkeye, or conjunctivitis.


Allergies are conditions that cause eyes to redden and itch. During an allergic reaction, the eyes respond to a perceived harmful or foreign substance by producing excessive tears and mucus, which causes the eyes to itch. This is particularly true of people who have overly sensitive eyes. Eyes that are sensitive and are prone to react to various substances are often a condition that is inherited.

Allergies may also trigger other conditions, such as asthma or conjunctivitis. Over 22 million people in the US who are allergic to various substances also suffer from allergic conjunctivitis.

Symptoms of allergies include runny nose, sneezing and coughing, breathing difficulties, uncontrollable itching in the nose, mouth or throat, headache caused by sinus congestion, and red, swollen eyes that constantly itch and produce mucus and tears.


Eye allergies are caused by allergens that move about in the air. When these airborne allergens, such as pollen, dust, mold, or pet dander, come into contact with the eyes, adverse reactions occur. In some cases, a person’s eyes may exhibit signs of allergy from certain cosmetics, and medications such as antibiotic eye drops.


The most common way to treat an eye allergy is to stay away substances that they are allergic to. Itchy eyes may be avoided by keeping one’s house free of dust, mold, or pet dander. During the spring, when pollen is plentiful in the air, a person prone to eye allergies should stay indoors with the air conditioning on. Air conditioners are useful in filtering out allergic substances that may cause a person’s eyes to itch and tear incessantly.

A person suffering from an eye allergy may resort to medication to help remedy red, itchy, and teary eyes. While over-the-counter medication may alleviate symptoms to some degree, prescription medications are often stronger and more effective.

Doctors may recommend eye drops that contain antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, and decongestants. These eye drops act as eyewashes to cleanse the eyes of the various allergens that the eyes may have come into contact with. By some measure, eye drops can relieve symptoms of an eye allergy, particularly if the eyes are constantly itchy.

Decongestants help eliminate the redness from eyes. Vasoconstrictors are the main ingredient in this type of medication. They work to shrink the blood vessels in the eyes in order to reduce the appearance of redness. Decongestants are meant to treat the symptoms of eye allergies, and not the cause of it.

Using decongestants for an extended period of time may cause the eyes to become overly dependent on them. Discontinued use may actually result in the blood vessels of the eyes becoming larger than usual. This type of reaction is known as rebound hyperemia, a side effect of continued use of decongestants that cause the eyes to grow worse in time.
Itchy eyes
Image: Itchy eyes

Other medications contain ingredients referred to as mast cell stabilizers. These ingredients relieve the symptoms of redness and swelling. Mast cell stabilizers work in a similar manner as antihistamines, but unlike antihistamines that provide immediate relief, mast cell stabilizers provide longer lasting effects.

Mast cell stabilizers, antihistamines, and decongestants come in pill form, and well as in fast-acting eye drops or gel.

To decrease other symptoms such as swelling, inflammation, and itching, doctors may prescribe Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) in the form of eye drops. These prescription eye drops provide quick relief, but have commonly been associated with various side effects, such as intraocular pressure. This increased inner eye pressure may eventually lead to glaucoma, a disorder characterized by damage to the eye’s optic nerve. Steroid medication on the other hand, may cloud the eyes’ natural lens, which encourages the development of cataracts.


Another common cause for itchy eyes is conjunctivitis, a highly contagious disease of the eyes that comes from exposure to a bacteria or virus. Conjunctivitis is also as pinkeye because of severe redness and inflammation of they eye’s conjunctiva, the clear membranous layer covering the while area of the eye and the eyelids’ inner surfaces.

Due to its disturbing appearance, the bright red, mucus-filled eyes of a pinkeye sufferer can be a cause for alarm. While conjunctivitis is a relatively common disease, it doesn’t cause any long-term damage to the eye or its vision. Pinkeye often affects children and can be passed around from child to child if the infection occurs in school.

Conjunctivitis results from an infection caused by bacteria or viruses. Conjunctivitis can also be caused by allergies, such as hay fever, or other substances that enter the eye and bring about an infection. These bacteria and viruses are many of the same ones that are responsible for the outbreaks of colds, sinus infections, eye infections, and sore throats. Some of these bacteria are the same types that cause Chlamydia and gonorrhea, the two most common sexually transmitted diseases.

In other cases, certain substances can cause irritation and lead to conjunctivitis. Some chemicals, like soaps and chlorine, as well as airborne pollutants, like fumes and smoke, can result in very itchy pinkeye infections.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis may vary depending on severity. Eye discomfort is a very common symptom, making a person feel like there is a grain of sand stuck inside their eyes. The white areas of the eyes and the inner eyelids become red, thus the origin of the term “pinkeye”. Excessive mucus-like discharge may also issue from the red and irritated eyes.

Conjunctivitis is a contagious infection. The virus and bacteria can be transmitted when a person comes into direct contact with an infected person and their belongings, then touching one’s eyes. Conjunctivitis may also spread through contaminated water, touching personal belongings of an infected person, or simply through the droplets that fly through the air during a cough or sneeze.

Someone who has pinkeye in one eye can also inadvertently spread it to the other eye by touching the infected eye. Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, and refraining from sharing personal belongings can prevent conjunctivitis or medication such as eye drops, make-up, tissues, towels or pillowcases of a person who is infected.
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