Itchy eyes: causes and why to avoid eye rubbing for relief


Itchy eyes are a very common problem that most of us have experienced and can be caused by many different conditions. It’s important to identify the cause of the itching to treat it properly and decrease your symptoms as much as possible. If you rub your eyes for relief, know that this can actually make the itching worse and possibly cause damage to your eyes.


Seasonal or environmental allergies are the most common cause of eye itching. This is due to a buildup of the allergen in the eye that can also cause redness and watering. There are many eye drops that can successfully reduce or eliminate these symptoms. These eye drops can either be over-the- counter or prescription-strength drops prescribed by your eye doctor. In addition to eye drops, it’s important to identify the allergen causing your symptoms. Sometimes this may be outdoor allergens due to seasonal changes, indoor allergens from changes in your work environment or a new home, and pets.

Dry eye

Many times, the first symptom of dry eye isn’t the sensation of your eyes being dry. They may itch, burn or you may notice fluctuating vision as you blink. The first line of treatment for dry eye is usually an over- the-counter artificial tear or lubricant eye drop. These drops help to replenish the tears you naturally make and balance the tear layer on the front surface of your eye. Trying to choose the right artificial tear in the eye care aisle can be confusing, as there are many options. Visit your eye doctor for recommendations on which artificial tear to start with and how often to use them. 


Blepharitis is inflammation and redness of the eyelids, which can also cause your eyes to itch. This is usually due to buildup of debris on the eyelids and eyelashes. Washing your eyelids daily with over-the-counter eyelid wipes or a tear-free soap, such as baby shampoo, can help remove the debris and decrease the irritation. If the irritation persists, there are other treatments your eye doctor can prescribe to help with your symptoms. 

Itching with contact lens wear

In general, contact lenses should be comfortable while in your eyes. If you notice any itching with the lenses in place or even itching after you remove your lenses, you should visit your eye doctor. Your doctor will evaluate how the lenses are fitting on your eyes and can recommend ways to improve the alignment of the lens with your eye or possibly change the material or brand you’re wearing to decrease your symptoms. 

Avoid rubbing your eyes for relief

No matter the cause, rubbing your eyes when they itch isn’t recommend because it can cause damage to your eyes and can actually make your eyes itch more. Extensive eye rubbing can also cause a scratched cornea if the itching is from a foreign object in the eye, such as an eye lash or make-up debris. 

If you feel the need to rub your eyes, place a cool, damp washcloth over closed your eyes until the sensation subsides. You can also apply artificial tears or lubricant eye drops until you can visit your eye doctor to evaluate the cause of the itching. 

Stephanie Pisano is an optometrist and clinical assistant professor at Havener Eye Institute in the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Science at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center