What’s Irritating My Eyes?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on November 08, 2022
3 min read

Dry weather and other things can wreak havoc on your eyes. When they bother you, it’s important to find relief quickly.

Here are some things that might bug your eyes, plus ways to fix them. If these tips don’t help, check with your doctor.

Allergies: Your eyes let you know when it’s allergy season, or if your new partner’s pet gives off dander. Itchy, watery, swollen, and red eyes are signs of allergic conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the membrane that covers the whites of your eyes. Sometimes this happens along with nasal allergy symptoms.

Solution: Try over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops or allergy pills. A cool compress may soothe the itching.

Irritants: Other things that can make your eyes red and itchy include tobacco smoke, chlorinated pool water, and even the air around indoor pools.

Solution: Rinse your eyes with clean, warm water, and use artificial tears to soothe them.

Foreign objects: Sand, dirt, and sawdust can make you weepy. They can also scratch your cornea, the clear covering of the front of your eye. Symptoms include pain (which may be worse when you open or shut your eye), redness, watering, and sensitivity to light.

Solution: If something feels stuck in your eye, try to wash it out with water. Don’t touch your eye or try to remove the object. Keep your eye closed as much as possible and go to an eye doctor or emergency room immediately.

Contact lenses: They can also irritate your cornea if you don’t look after them. Over the long term, they can make your eyes dry. Never wear your contacts when your eyes are red or irritated.

Solution: Disinfect your contacts and replace them as your eye doctor told you to. If your eyes are dry, ask your eye doctor if you can try a different type of lens or wear them less often.

Infections: Red, itchy pinkeye is a form of conjunctivitis caused by a virus or bacteria. Your eyes put out a sticky or ropy discharge. Your eyelids may crust over. It usually starts in one eye and spreads to the other. And you can infect other people.

Solution: Try cool compresses if they’re itchy. Your doctor can tell you if the cause is a virus or bacteria. They might prescribe eye drops to treat it.

Extended-wear contacts and old eye makeup might make you more likely to get an infection. Signs include red, watery eyes, pain, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision. It might feel like you have something in your eye.

Solution: Talk to your eye doctor if there are problems with your contacts. Do not overwear your contacts and clean them properly. Toss out eye makeup after 3 to 4 months, and don’t share it.

Medical conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren's syndrome can cause dry eyes as well as more serious problems. Bacteria or a form of dandruff can cause blepharitis, a chronic condition that involves inflammation of the eyelids. Symptoms include:

  • Always feeling like you have something in your eye
  • Eyelids or lashes that crust over
  • Eyelashes that grow in wrong directions
  • Flakes at the base of your lashes
  • Redness and itching

Solution: Your doctor may prescribe medications for chronic dry eyes. There are treatments for blepharitis, too, and your doctor will probably suggest using an eyelid scrub.

Follow these steps:

Give them a break. Replace your mascara often, and never share makeup. Wear wrap-around sunglasses, and use safety glasses if you work with machinery.

Keep them moist.Dry eyes are more likely to get inflamed or scarred. Stay away from cigarette smoke. Air conditioning can pull moisture from the air in your house, so run a humidifier if it feels too dry. Ask your doctor if any of your medications might dry out your eyes.

Be careful with contacts.Wash your hands before you put in your lenses.

See your eye doctor. If you have pain or blurriness, double vision, or a serious eye injury, go to the doctor immediately.