Itchy eyes can happen for various reasons, including allergies, medication use, and dry eye syndrome. It can happen at any time, but some people notice the itching more at night.

One reason might be that people are more relaxed and less distracted at night, so the itching becomes more noticeable. They may also have an allergic reaction to substances in the sleeping environment.

In this article, we look at why a person’s eyes might be itchy and how to resolve itchy eyes.

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Various factors can cause itchy eyes, such as:

  • an allergic reaction, for example, to pollen, feathers, or dander
  • a toxin or chemical such as a cosmetic ingredient in the eye
  • irritants, such as tobacco smoke, dust, or air pollution
  • dry eye, where the eye does not get enough lubrication during the day due to drug use, screen use, meibomian gland dysfunction, or other factors
  • atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema that causes red, itchy skin and dry eyes
  • an infection such as infective conjunctivitis or pink eye
  • anterior blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelid that usually happens when a bacterial infection causes a blockage in the follicles
  • some medications, such as antihistamines, birth control pills, antidepressants, and pain relief medication
  • eyestrain, for example, from looking at a computer screen for too long or driving long distances

Learn about 7 different types of eye infections.

A person should seek medical advice if:

  • they have severe or worsening symptoms
  • their eyes are producing a thick discharge
  • the eyelids are stuck closed
  • they cannot open one or both eyes
  • there is blurred vision or other vision changes
  • they have an object in the eye
  • they see a halo around lights
  • their eyes hurt when they look at a light
  • the pupils are uneven in size
  • there is pain or swelling

To diagnose itchy eyes, a specialist eye doctor will likely:

  • carry out a physical examination, including checking the eyes and eyelids
  • ask about other symptoms
  • review the person’s medical history
  • do a slit lamp examination to check for swollen blood vessels and other signs
  • use drops such as sodium fluorescein to check for allergies and dry eye

If there is any discharge on the person’s eyelids, the doctor may take a sample with a swab and send it to a lab for testing.

If a doctor suspects an allergy is causing the itchy eyes, they may do a patch test.

The following home remedies can help treat and prevent itchy eyes at night or during the day.

The 20-20-20 rule

Computer use, driving, and other activities can cause eyestrain and itchy eyes. The 20-20-20 rule can help prevent this.

For every 20 minutes of computer work, people should look away from the screen and at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds, allowing the eyes to relax.

Learn more about the 20-20-20 rule.

Warm and cool compresses

Applying a compress may provide immediate relief for itchy eyes.

Warm compresses over the eyes can help manage dry eyes. For example, they may help open the meibomian glands, which can improve lubrication. Warm compresses can be moist or dry.

A person can make a moist compress by soaking two clean washcloths in warm water, wringing them out, and placing one on each eye. A moist compress can also help clean the area around the eyes.

Cold compresses can help relieve inflammation due to an allergy. If itchy eyes feel warm and swollen, a cold compress might help ease the itch.

An eye doctor can help identify why irritation is present and which compress is best.

Keeping the eye area clean

Dirt, chemicals, and makeup can all cause itchy eyes. Keeping the eyes clean at night can help prevent itching.

To keep the eyes clean, a person can:

  • remove all makeup from around the eye regularly, including before cleaning the eyes and at night
  • flush any irritants from the eye with cool water
  • use artificial tears to clean the eyes
  • use a moist warm compress to dissolve or wash away any discharge

People should not rinse their eyes with water direct from the faucet as there may be a risk of infection.

Using a humidifier

Dry air can cause the eyes to become dry and itchy. People with itchy eyes might consider using a humidifier during dry weather.

Discontinuing medications or contact lens use

Some people have itchy eyes after starting to use contact lenses. They can ask their optician about other types of lenses and cleaning solutions. Daily disposable lenses, for example, may be better for people with eye allergies.

Some medications can cause itchy eyes. A person should speak with their prescribing doctor if this happens. The doctor may offer an alternative.

Using eye drops or artificial tears

Over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops and artificial tears can help lubricate the eyes and reduce itching.

However, doctors advise people to use whitening eye drops with caution, as they may have adverse effects in the long term.

If OTC treatments do not ease itching, a doctor may prescribe treatment. The options will depend on the cause of the symptoms.

Examples include:

  • oral and topical antibiotics for bacterial infections such as bacterial conjunctivitis
  • antihistamine or anti-inflammatory eye drops for allergies
  • oral antihistamines for some allergic reactions
  • steroid eye drops for blepharitis and allergies
  • topical antibiotics or steroid creams for blepharitis

Preventing itchy eyes at night often starts with identifying the possible causes. It may help to keep a journal of possible triggers to narrow these down.

People can also take steps during the day to help avoid things that can cause itchy eyes.

Allergens

Tips for avoiding itchy eyes at night due to an allergy include:

  • sleeping with the windows closed to reduce exposure to pollen and other outdoor allergens
  • keeping pets out of the bedroom to reduce contact with dander
  • dusting and changing bedsheets regularly to lower the risk of dust mites
  • using a hypoallergenic pillow and other bedding
  • asking a doctor about antihistamines or allergy shots
  • cleaning the eyelashes at night to remove any allergens or bacteria
  • showering at night to remove allergens from the body

Eyestrain

A person can avoid eyestrain by:

  • ensuring there is enough light in their home and workspace
  • taking breaks when using a screen or following the 20-20-20 rule
  • asking about contact lenses or glasses suited to their screen use
  • using an antiglare screen and positioning it so that the eyes are comfortable, for example looking slightly downward
  • taking breaks when driving long distances
  • wearing polarized sunglasses when outside or while driving

Other causes

Tips for avoiding infections such as pink eye include:

  • washing the hands regularly
  • avoiding touching the eyes, especially with unwashed hands
  • avoiding close contact with people who have an infection
  • avoiding sharing items such as cosmetics and towels with other people

If a person notices changes in their eyes that could indicate blepharitis, dry eye, or another eye problem, they should seek medical advice. Early treatment may help prevent complications from developing.

Here are answers to some questions people often ask about itchy eyes.

How do I stop my eyes itching?

This will depend on the cause. Sometimes OTC eye drops can soothe itching. If itching is due to an allergic reaction, a person can try avoiding any possible allergens. If the reason is unclear and itching persists, it may be good to contact an eye doctor. Some causes of itchy eyes need medical treatment.

What is the most common cause of itchy eyes?

The eyes most commonly become itchy from an allergic reaction. Other causes include dry eye syndrome, eyestrain, infections, exposure to toxins, and diseases such as meibomian gland dysfunction.

Are itchy eyes a symptom of COVID-19?

According to some research, around 1 in 10 people with COVID-19 have eye symptoms, including dry eyes, a feeling that there is something in the eye, itchiness, and others. Some people develop conjunctivitis alongside COVID-19.

Learn more about dry eyes and COVID-19.

There are many possible causes of itchy eyes at night and during the day.

People who experience eyestrain and allergic reactions can often prevent these from occurring by avoiding activities or substances that trigger dryness or itching.

If a person has dry eye syndrome, blepharitis, or another eye condition, they should seek medical advice. A doctor can provide treatment to address the cause. Not treating some eye conditions, such as dry eye, can lead to permanent eye damage.