Gritty eyes can feel scratched or irritated without there being anything in the eye to cause discomfort. Possible causes include dry eyes, blepharitis, photokeratitis, and more. Treatment can depend on the cause.

Gritty eyes, or foreign body sensation, gives a person the feeling that there is something in their eye when there is not.

Numerous conditions can cause a person to experience the sensation of gritty eyes.

Gritty eyes can cause mild to extreme discomfort. A person who has gritty eyes may also experience:

  • pain
  • irritation
  • watery eyes

This article looks at the causes and symptoms of gritty eyes, treatment options, and how to prevent them.

Several different conditions can cause the sensation of grittiness in the eye. Conditions that cause gritty eyes can range from mild to severe.

Causes of gritty eyes include:

Dry eyes

Having dry eyes is one of the most common causes of gritty eyes.

A person can have dry eyes if they do not produce enough tears. Dry eyes can also occur if there is a problem with a person’s tears.

A person with dry eyes might also experience:

  • stinging and burning
  • blurred vision
  • strings of mucus in or around the eye
  • redness
  • irritation
  • watery eyes
  • pain when wearing contact lenses


Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids and another common cause of gritty eyes.

Blepharitis is a common condition in people who have dandruff, rosacea, or oily skin.

A person with blepharitis may experience:

  • burning or stinging
  • itchy eyes
  • watery eyes
  • light sensitivity
  • red eyes or eyelids
  • swollen eyes or eyelids
  • foamy tears
  • dry eyes
  • crusty eyelids or eyelashes when waking
  • blurry vision
  • eyelashes falling out
  • swelling of the cornea
  • eyelashes growing inwards


Photokeratitis is a condition that can develop after the eyes’ exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

A person can come into contact with UV rays via:

  • reflections of the sun’s rays from water, ice, snow, or sand
  • looking directly at the sun
  • looking directly at a solar eclipse
  • sun-beds
  • welding torches

Photokeratitis can cause:

  • pain
  • redness
  • blurriness
  • watery eyes
  • swelling
  • light sensitivity
  • a headache
  • a halo of light to appear
  • small pupils
  • twitching eyelids
  • temporary vision loss

Sjögren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue.

Sjögren’s syndrome can damage the glands that lubricate the eyes and mouth, leading to dry eyes.

Symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome that affect the eye include:

  • very dry eyes
  • burning or stinging eyes
  • blurry vision
  • light sensitivity
  • blepharitis
  • discomfort when wearing contact lenses


A stye is a small red lump that develops on the base of an eyelash or under the eyelid. Bacterial infections commonly cause styes.

A stye can cause the following:

  • painful lump, which may contain pus
  • swollen eyelid
  • watery eye

Meibomian gland dysfunction

The meibomian glands are tiny oil glands located on the rim of the eyelids.

The meibomian glands help to produce tears that lubricate the surface of the eye. If these glands cannot produce enough oil or become clogged, the eye can become irritated.

Symptoms of meibomian gland dysfunction include:

  • dry eyes
  • burning
  • itchiness
  • sticky or crusty eyes
  • watery eyes
  • light sensitivity
  • redness
  • styes
  • blurry vision


Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, occurs when the conjunctiva of the eye becomes irritated. The conjunctiva is the clear tissue that covers the white of the eye.

There are three types of conjunctivitis: allergic, bacterial, and viral.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • redness
  • burning
  • itchiness
  • pain
  • watery eyes
  • blurry vision
  • puffy eyelids
  • light sensitivity
  • mucus, pus, or thick yellow discharge coming from the eye
  • eyelids sticking together

Corneal abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a scratch or scrape on the surface of the cornea. The cornea is a transparent layer that covers the iris and pupil.

Symptoms of corneal abrasion include:

  • red, painful, watery eyes
  • blurry vision
  • light sensitivity

Corneal laceration

A corneal laceration is deeper than a corneal abrasion. Something hitting the cornea with extreme force can cause corneal lacerations.

A person with a corneal laceration should seek immediate medical attention.

A Corneal laceration can cause:

  • severe pain
  • tearing
  • light sensitivity
  • blurred or decreased vision
  • bleeding

Corneal ulcer

What causes crusty eyes or sticky eyes?A corneal ulcer, or keratitis, is an open sore that develops on the cornea. An eye infection usually causes a corneal ulcer.

Corneal ulcer symptoms include:

  • redness
  • severe pain
  • tearing
  • pus or discharge
  • blurry vision
  • light sensitivity
  • swollen eyelids
  • white spot on the cornea

Giant papillary conjunctivitis

Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) occurs when the inside of the eyelid becomes red, irritated, and swollen. GPC is most likely to occur in people who wear contact lenses.

GPC can cause:

  • red, painful, itchy eyes
  • swollen or droopy eyelids
  • excess mucus in the eye
  • blurry vision
  • the feeling that a contact lens moves during blinking

Fungal keratitis

Fungal keratitis is an infection of the cornea that wearing contact lenses or eye injury can cause. If not treated, fungal keratitis can cause blindness.

Symptoms of fungal keratitis include:

  • reduced vision
  • eye pain
  • light sensitivity
  • tearing
  • discharge

Prostaglandin analogs

Prostaglandin analogs are a form of eye drops used to treat the eye condition glaucoma.

However, these eye drops can have side effects, including:

  • red, stinging, painful eyes
  • blurry vision
  • a permanent change in eye color
  • increase in thickness, number, and length of eyelashes
  • darkening of eyelid
  • joint pain
  • upper respiratory tract infections
  • light sensitivity
  • eyes sinking into sockets

Ocular rosacea

Rosacea is a skin disease that can cause redness and acne-like bumps on the face. However, rosacea can also affect the eyes, causing:

  • red, burning, or watery eyes
  • red swollen eyelids
  • clogged oil glands on eyelids
  • stye or chalazion, a bump that forms on the eyelid

Pinguecula and pterygium

Pinguecula and pterygium are growths that develop on the conjunctiva. Pterygium starts on the conjunctiva and will grow over the cornea.

These growths can occur due to a mixture of UV rays, wind, and dust.

Symptoms of pinguecula and pterygium include:

  • redness and swelling of the conjunctiva
  • a yellow spot on the white of the eye
  • dry, itchy, burning eyes
  • blurry vision

The best treatment for gritty eyes depends on the cause.

A person should speak to their eye doctor, ophthalmologist, or optometrist, to discuss what may be causing their gritty eyes.

A doctor may recommend one of the following treatments for gritty eyes:

  • eye drops to soothe and lubricate eyes
  • artificial tears
  • steroid or antibiotic eye drops
  • blocking or surgically closing tear ducts to keep tears in the eyes for longer
  • eye ointments
  • warm compress on the eyes
  • massaging eyelids
  • using eyelid cleansers
  • avoiding wearing contact lenses

Certain conditions may require surgery, such as a cornea transplant, to treat them fully.

A person can discuss with their doctor what treatment option may be best suited to them.

A person can help to prevent developing gritty eyes in the following ways:

  • avoiding exposing eyes to drying winds
  • using a humidifier
  • wearing protective eyewear, such as sunglasses, or safety shields
  • adding omega-3 fatty acids to their diet
  • using eye drops before bed
  • taking breaks from using a computer or reading
  • avoiding smoke or smoking

A person who has a corneal laceration or ulcer should seek immediate medical help. These conditions can cause blindness if not treated.

If a person thinks they may have something stuck in their eye, they should speak to a doctor. A doctor can help determine if there is something there or if a condition is causing the sensation.

A person who has eye pain, vision loss, or any worrying symptoms should speak with their doctor immediately.

Gritty eyes can cause a person to feel as though there is something in their eye.

Many different conditions, ranging from mild to severe, can cause gritty eyes.

There are many treatments available for a person with gritty eyes. A person should speak with their doctor to determine the best treatment for them.

If a person experiences any worrying symptoms, they should seek urgent medical attention.