Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Itchy eyes

4-minute read

Itchy eyes are usually caused by an allergy or by a condition called dry eye syndrome. There are several things you can do to treat and prevent itchy eyes. 

What are itchy eyes?

Itchy eyes, also known as ocular pruritis, are a very common problem. You might also have itchy eyelids, usually at the base of the eyelashes, and your eyes and/or eyelids might be swollen. 

What causes itchy eyes?

The most common cause of itchy eyes is an allergy. Itchy eyes can be triggered by exposure to pollen, animal fur, mould, dust mites, make-up or eye drops. Your body reacts to the trigger by releasing histamine, causing the blood vessels in your eye to dilate and irritating the nerve endings so your eyes water. When your eyes get red because of an allergy, it is known as allergic conjunctivitis (also called pink eye or red eye).

Allergic conjunctivitis is more common at certain times of the year, although you can still have it all year round. It also causes a runny nose, scratchy throat and sneezing. 

Other types of allergy can give you itchy eyes. For example, a condition called atopic keratoconjunctivitis produces an inflammation of the surface of the eye because you have an allergy to a specific substance. Another condition, vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC), produces inflammation in the membrane on the surface of the eye. This usually affects young boys.

If you have eczema, a form of dermatitis, around your eyes this too can cause itching.

Other causes of itchy eyes include:

Itchy eyes treatment

It is important to see your pharmacist or optometrist to work out the cause of your itchy eyes. 

Itching caused by an allergy can be helped with antihistamine or anti-inflammatory eye drops. It can help to use artificial tears (eye drops designed to lubricate dry eyes) to wash away any allergens on the surface of your eye. Sometimes you may need to take an oral antihistamine. 

If you have something in your eye, try to wash it out with warm water or a saline solution. If that doesn’t work, you should see a doctor within 24 hours.

Itchy eyes self-help

Relieve the itching by placing a clean, cold, damp washcloth or an ice pack over your closed eyes. You can also try bathing your eyes with cold water. Try not to rub your eyes because this will make the itching worse and could damage them.

If you have dry eye, make the air as humid as possible by placing bowls of water around the room. 

How to prevent itchy eyes

If the itching is caused by an allergy, identify what you are allergic to and remove it. Your doctor can help you and may refer you to a specialist immunologist or allergist if a more complicated assessment is needed. For example, house dust mites and pet fur are common triggers. You should also talk to your doctor about whether changing your medicines could help prevent itchy eyes. 

Try to avoid things that can irritate the eyes, such as dry air, wind, pollen, cigarette smoke, dust, chemicals, strong smells, or staring at a screen for a long time. Make a conscious effort to blink more often to lubricate your eyes. 

Always use hypoallergenic products near your eyes and use eye protection to prevent pollen, dust or sand from getting into your eyes. Eating a diet with plenty of vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids can also help. 

When to seek help for itchy eyes 

See a doctor if:

  • your symptoms aren’t getting better
  • you have thick discharge from your eyes
  • your eyes are stuck together
  • you can’t keep your eye open
  • your vision is changed or blurred
  • you have something in your eye
  • you can see a halo around lights
  • it hurts to look at bright lights
  • your pupils are different sizes
  • your eyes are swollen
  • you are in pain

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Dry eyes and irritation - myDr.com.au

Dry eye includes dry or watery eyes and eye irritation. Dry eye occurs in people who produce fewer or lower quality tears. Find out what products are available for dry eyes and eye irritation.

Read more on myDr website

Dry eye - myDr.com.au

Dry eye is a term used when the eye does not produce tears that lubricate the eye adequately. The eye may feel dry, gritty and sore, but not painful.

Read more on myDr website

Dry eye - Better Health Channel

A person suffering from dry eye syndrome does not have enough of the right kind of tears to keep the eye comfortable.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Dry Eye (Dry Eye Syndrome) | myVMC

Dry eye syndrome occurs when the eye produces fewer or poorer quality tears and is unable to maintain normal eye lubrication. It can also occur when the lacrimal glands are damaged, or when tears evaporate more rapidly than normal.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Dry eye disease: when to treat andwhen to refer | Australian Prescriber

There is more than one type of dry eye disease and many risk factors. While most cases can be managed with lubricants, it is important to know which patients...

Read more on Australian Prescriber website

Eyes - common problems - Better Health Channel

You can help prevent dry eyes and minimise the risk of tired or sore eyes while reading or using a computer.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Red eye - myDr.com.au

Red eye is the term used when irritation or infection causes the eye to be red, itchy, watery and feel gritty. It's sometimes known as a 'bloodshot eye'.

Read more on myDr website

Allergy blood test (IgE) - Lab Tests Online AU

When you have symptoms such as a rash, dermatitis, rhinitis (nasal congestion), red itchy eyes or asthma that your doctor suspects may be caused by an allergy

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

The Low Allergen Garden - National Asthma Council Australia

If you are a gardener with asthma, hayfever, eczema or dermatitis, plants and gardens can bring about endless sneezing, itchy eyes, congestion, an itchy throat,

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Bushfires :: SA Health

Bushfire smoke can cause breathing difficulties, itchy eyes, throat irritation and exacerbate existing conditions, like asthma, heart and lung conditions.

Read more on SA Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo