Eye irritation is a term for eye discomfort, itchiness or dryness. It has a variety of causes, ranging from mild to serious. Eye irritation usually gets better quickly with at-home remedies and over-the-counter eye drops.
You’ve likely experienced eye irritation at some point in your life. It can cause feelings of dryness, grittiness or itchiness. You may feel like you have something in your eye that you can’t get out. Or you may have redness or swelling along with eye irritation.
Eye irritation usually improves with some home remedies or over-the-counter medications. Less commonly, it can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. See a healthcare provider if your eye bothers you for more than a few days and home remedies don’t help. Your provider may offer additional treatments to help you find relief.
Eye irritation generally means that your eye or the surrounding area is uncomfortable. It’s often accompanied by symptoms such as:
Eye irritation usually doesn’t lead to complications. However, if you get a foreign object in your eye, it can cause damage. A small piece of dirt, sand or glass could scratch your cornea, the thin transparent layer of tissue that covers your eye.
A mild cornea scratch, called a corneal abrasion, usually resolves quickly. Your healthcare provider may give you prescription eye drops to relieve pain as the scratch heals.
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They’re several possible causes of eye irritation, many of which have over-the-counter (OTC) solutions. The most common causes of eye irritation include:
Yes. Any foreign object on or around your eyes can cause irritation and discomfort. Eyelash extensions may even damage your eyes or cause an allergic reaction.
Underlying medical conditions sometimes cause eye irritation, including:
Several at-home remedies can lessen eye irritation and help you find relief. You may:
Depending on the root cause of eye irritation, you may need additional medical treatments. See a healthcare provider if home remedies don’t work or if you have eye irritation for longer than one to two days.
A healthcare provider may recommend:
You may need additional treatments for underlying medical conditions. Your healthcare provider will offer a personalized treatment plan based on your needs and symptoms.
Minor eye irritation usually goes away in a day or two. More serious infections may cause eye irritation lasting one to two weeks. See your healthcare provider if your eye irritation lasts longer than 48 hours, even if it’s mild.
You can keep your eyes healthy and lower your risk of eye irritation with a few simple practices, including:
See a healthcare provider if eye irritation is severe and sudden or lasts longer than a few days. You should also see one right away if you have symptoms such as:
You should also see a healthcare provider immediately if you’ve sustained an eye injury, such as:
Eye infections may cause eye irritation along with:
See a healthcare provider if you have any signs of an eye infection. You may need prescription medications to treat the infection.
Digital eye strain is a major cause of eye irritation in today’s online society. If you deal with eye strain from looking at a screen, your healthcare provider may recommend following the 20-20-20 rule. During prolonged periods of screen time, you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, repeating every 20 minutes. The 20-20-20 rule can help decrease eye strain and irritation.
No, blue light-blocking glasses don’t prevent eye irritation or digital eye strain. Digital eye strain isn’t related to blue light. Instead, it usually develops when your eyes focus on a close object for long periods. You also tend to blink less often when staring at a screen, which can lead to dryness and discomfort.
Blue light-blocking glasses can prevent blue light from interfering with your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. So, you may want blue light-blocking glasses if you have difficulty sleeping. Setting your devices to night mode and decreasing screen time before bed also can help you sleep better.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Eye irritation is the feeling that your eye is bothering you. You’ve probably experienced this sensation at some point — everything from a stray eyelash to cigarette smoke can cause eye irritation. Home remedies and over-the-counter medications usually relieve eye irritation. See your healthcare provider if eye irritation lasts longer than several days or if you have symptoms of an infection.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/13/2023.
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