Many people experience itching in the corner of the eye, where the tear duct is. In most cases, this is uncomfortable but harmless.
This article will look at the main causes of itching in the corner of the eye, explore different treatment options, and discuss when to see a doctor.
The following conditions can cause itchy eyes. The sections below will also discuss some treatment options by cause.
Doctors call pink eye “conjunctivitis.” This develops when something has irritated the front of the eye, or the conjunctiva.
- itchy eyes
- red eyes
- teary eyes
- swollen eyelids
- mucus discharge
There are several possible causes of pink eye. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the three main types of pink eye are:
Allergic conjunctivitis: Triggers and treatment
Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when an irritant gets into the eye and causes inflammation, or swelling, in the conjunctiva. Allergic conjunctivitis is uncomfortable, but it is not dangerous.
Allergens can include:
- animal hair
- dust mite feces
People with allergic conjunctivitis have several treatment options to relieve itching around the eye, including medicated eye drops and antihistamine pills.
Medicated eye drops are available from drugstores and can dilute the allergens that are irritating the eye. The active ingredient is ketotifen, which is an antihistamine.
People may also find relief after taking antihistamine pills. Over-the-counter (OTC) products such as loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra) can all provide relief.
Viral conjunctivitis: Treatment and prevention
Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, meaning that it spreads easily from person to person. It will usually go away on its own, but there are steps people can take to ease the symptoms.
- placing a cool, wet washcloth over closed eyes to soothe the itching
- avoiding touching or rubbing the eyes, to reduce irritation
- taking a rest, so the body can focus on overcoming the virus
To prevent the spread of the virus, people should wash their hands thoroughly before touching their face and avoid sharing towels with others.
Bacterial conjunctivitis: Treatment and prevention
Bacterial conjunctivitis is also highly contagious. The bacteria that cause it can be the same as those that cause strep throat.
Sometimes, there is little to no discharge from the eye.
Children are likely to get bacterial conjunctivitis because they are in close contact with others and may not wash their hands as frequently as adults.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops, depending on how severe the symptoms are.
To prevent the spread and reduce the chances of contracting bacterial conjunctivitis, the AAO recommend:
- washing the hands frequently
- avoiding contact with someone who has conjunctivitis
- not sharing towels with other people
- cleaning any contact lenses thoroughly
- replacing eye makeup after an infection
Dry eye disease
Doctors sometimes call dry eye disease “dysfunctional tear syndrome.” It means that someone’s tears do not keep their eyes lubricated enough.
Normally, when a person blinks, the eyelid spreads tears across the front of the eye, or the cornea. This keeps the eye wet and washes away unwanted particles to help prevent infection.
Any tears left over after a blink flow into the back of the nose through the tear ducts, which are the drainage channels in the inner corners of the eye.
When someone has dry eye disease, either they do not produce enough tears to wash and lubricate the eye (which doctors call keratoconjunctivitis sicca), or they produce tears that do not have the right balance of oil, water, and mucus to wash and lubricate the eye.
Common symptoms of dry eye disease include:
- irritated and itchy eyes
- a feeling of having something in the eye
- a “gritty” feeling in the eyes
- a burning sensation in the eyes
- excessive watering
- blurred vision
Managing the symptoms of dry eye disease
When someone has dry eye disease for a long time, it can damage the front of the eye and impair their vision. For some people, it can be a chronic condition, meaning that there is no cure.
However, many individuals can manage it using the following options:
- Artificial tear solutions: These are available from drugstores. The American Optometric Association recommend that people use preservative-free products.
- Prescription-strength eye drops: These can help people produce more tears and reduce inflammation around the eyes.
- A warm compress or eyelid massage: These options may help ease the symptoms.
For people who have chronic dry eye disease, their tear ducts may temporarily be blocked. When the tear ducts are blocked, tears no longer drain away, and the eyes stay lubricated for longer.
Healthcare professionals may use removable silicone or gel plugs to block the tear ducts. In more severe cases, they may suggest a permanent surgical procedure to permanently close the tear ducts.
Tear duct infection
A tear duct infection, or dacryocystitis, can cause itching in the corner of the eye. When a tear duct becomes blocked and tears cannot drain away, bacteria may collect in the area and cause an infection.
Other than itching, the symptoms include:
- swelling of the lower eyelid’s inner corner
- pain in the lower eyelid’s inner corner
- excessive tearing
- discharge from the eye
- a high body temperature or fever
People with dacryocystitis will usually need to take antibiotics to clear the infection. If they do not seek treatment, the infection could get worse.
If a person keeps getting tear duct infections, they may need to have an operation. During surgery, the surgeon will make the narrowed or blocked drainage canal in the tear duct wider.
The best way to prevent itchy eyes will depend on the cause of the problem.
People who experience allergic conjunctivitis can try to avoid their triggers or reduce their exposure to the allergen. For example, if a person is allergic to cats, they should wash their hands immediately after petting a cat to minimize their exposure to the dander.
Those with dry eye disease can try to remember to blink regularly when they are reading or looking at a screen. Increasing the humidity in the air at home or work can also help ease the symptoms, as can wearing sunglasses while outdoors.
If conjunctivitis symptoms take longer than 1–2 weeks to go away, a person should speak to a doctor, as they may benefit from using prescription-strength medications.
Dry eye disease can get worse over time and may damage a person’s sight. If a person thinks that they have dry eye disease, they should speak to a doctor.
Tear duct infections usually only get better with antibiotics. Therefore, if a person suspects that they have dacryocystitis, they should see a doctor.
Itching in the corner of the eye is not usually a cause for concern. People may treat their symptoms with OTC medication or a prescription from their doctor.
Some conditions, such as dry eye disease, can get worse over time. However, people can usually manage the condition using medications and simple preventive measures, such as blinking regularly and increasing the humidity in the air at home.
Viruses and bacteria can infect the lining of the eye or tear duct, causing itching in the corner of the eye. Allergies and how often the body produces and drains tears may also cause itchy eyes.
Most causes are treatable with OTC medication, which can ease the symptoms and provide relief from the itching. People with symptoms of an infection or dry eye disease should speak to a doctor.