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What Helps Irritated Eyes?

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A man taking off his glasses and rubbing his eye due to irritated eyes

Eye irritation is a common eye complaint with typical accompanying symptoms such as redness, itching, or dry eyes. Depending on the cause, you can also experience other symptoms. 

For example, if you have a foreign body in the eye causing irritation, this can constitute an eye emergency. Common irritants usually cause temporary discomfort. However, if they reoccur and there’s no relief, an eye exam can help evaluate your eye health and vision. 

When you experience eye irritation, your first desire may be to seek relief. We delve into ways to soothe eye irritation and break down some of the most common causes and symptoms of irritated eyes. 

Symptoms of Eye Irritation

Symptoms of eye irritation can vary depending on the cause:

  • Itchiness at all times, day and night
  • Watery eyes
  • Redness
  • Eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Light sensitivity
A woman rubbing her right eye with her right hand due to irritation

Causes of Eye Irritation

It can be hard to pinpoint the reason for your eye irritation because of multiple causes. These are some of the leading ones:


Eye irritation can be seasonal or at certain times of the year due to allergic conjunctivitis or inflammation. Allergy symptoms include intense itchiness, watery eyes, swollen eyes, or redness. Allergens may include pollen, pet dander, mould, or dust mites. 


Exposure to smoke, dust, or chemical vapours, such as air around chlorinated pool water, can irritate the eyes. Symptoms after exposure can include red and itchy eyes. 

Foreign Objects

Foreign objects in the eye can cause irritation. These can include sand, dirt, sawdust or even an eyelash or piece of glass. Apart from irritation, you can experience watery eyes and sometimes pain when blinking if something scratches the cornea, the clear front part of the eye. 

Digital Eye Strain

Long hours spent in front of screens can decrease blinking and tear production, leading to dry and irritated eyes. Symptoms of digital eye strain can include eye pain, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and watery eyes. 

Dry Eyes Disease

Dry eye disease is when your eyes produce insufficient tears or poor-quality tears. You can have mild or chronic dry eyes with irritation, grittiness, burning, redness, and watery eyes. 


Various infections, including bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, can lead to irritation, swelling, itchiness, discharge, and crustiness of eyelashes or eyelids. 

Conjunctivitis or pink eye is inflammation of the membrane inside the eyelid, usually caused by a virus. Symptoms can include irritation, redness, and pink-looking eyes from small inflamed blood vessels in the eye. 

Contact Lenses

Ill-fitting, poor-quality, expired contacts or wearing contacts for long periods can irritate the cornea. Refrain from wearing contact lenses if your eyes are irritated or red. 

Other causes of eye irritation can include: 

  • Medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Styes or painful lumps, similar to a pimple on the edge of the eye.
  • Blocked tear ducts affect the proper drainage of tears and can lead to crustiness and pain.
  • Blepharitis or inflammation of the eyelids.

Ways to Soothe Eye Irritation

You can experience relief from eye irritation with the following home eye care methods, avoiding triggers, and help from your eye doctor:

  1. Allergies: Antihistamine medication or eye drops. Staying indoors and keeping the windows closed during seasonal allergies.
  2. Irritants: A cool compress to soothe redness and itchiness
  3. Foreign body: Rinsing the eyes with clean, room temperature or warm water to flush out the foreign body. Don’t touch the eyes with your hands, or remove the foreign body on your own and seek medical attention. 
  4. Contact lenses: Proper care of contact lenses or a different lens type to prevent dry eyes.
  5. Digital eye strain: Limit screen time and take breaks.
  6. Treatment: Treat underlying medical conditions, such as pink eye.

Dry eye treatment can also be beneficial to soothe your eyes. Dry eye treatment can include:

  • Using a humidifier to increase moisture levels in the air.
  • Prescriptive eye drops to increase tear production.
  • Medication to increase oil production or reduce inflammation. 
  • Punctal plugs that prevent tears from draining.
  • iLux treatments to warm and unplug blocked meibomian glands.

Relief for Eye Irritations

Everyday irritants are more than an eye sore. They can cause swelling, redness, itching, watery eyes, and blurred vision.
For minor irritations, you can find ways to soothe the eyes and find relief. For more serious causes of eye irritation that require an assessment or treatment, book an appointment with Dr. Shonah Finlay Doctors Eye Care.

Written by Dr. Shonah Finlay

Dr. Finlay grew up by the gold mines in South Africa and knew from a young age she wanted to follow a medically related career. She applied to and was accepted to study optometry at the former Rand Afrikaans University in South Africa. During her last year of studies, Dr. Finlay worked on the Train of Hope: South Africa’s Phelophepa. This custom-built train (now 2) travels throughout rural South Africa to deliver top-quality primary healthcare to disadvantaged communities. It was a wonderful experience to bring sight to so many people that otherwise do without. Those memories always remind her of why she loves practicing optometry.
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