Why are my eyes so itchy?
May 31, 2010 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Why are my eyes so itchy?

The problem started a few months ago, and for a long time it was just the inside corner of my right eye that was really itchy. The eye was only itchy once every few days or so. But over the past month, the itchiness has spread to all of both my eyes. There are sometimes stretches of a couple days or so where it doesn't bother me at all, but still also an incredible itchiness at times. It can get so bad sometimes that I just want to rub them non-stop, but that generally offers little relief, and just makes my eyes really red.

Almost two weeks ago it was so bad that I had trouble getting to sleep, and even considered calling off work. So I called a Medexpress center, but they told me that without health insurance, it'd cost me $115 just to get it checked. I'm really adverse to expensive doctor visits, so instead I just bought some itch relief eye-drops and hoped for the problem to eventually get better on its own. The eye-drops did help, but I've made sure to only use them very sparingly to see if my eyes would get better on their own. For a few days after that, they did seem to be getting better. But while since then they haven't gotten nearly as bad as the day I almost called off work, the itchiness is still there every now and then.

I thought at one point it might've had something to do with pinkeye, but my eyes have only gotten red when I itched them, and I never had any green discharge coming out of my eyes. So I'm guessing maybe it has something to do with allergies, but I'm not sure. Before my right eye started itching a few months ago, I never recall having had this kind of itchiness in either eye.

So what could be causing the itchiness in my eyes? Is there anything I can do to fix it on my own? And if it's absolutely necessary to make any doctor visits, how can I keep the costs down?
posted by Ryogen to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would try taking Benadryl to see if that helps, to rule out allergies.
posted by amro at 3:17 PM on May 31, 2010

One thing you can use is called "artificial tears". It's eye drops without any medication, and you can use them as often as you want without any worries. (Here's Visine's version. Here's Murine's version.)

I would guess that the itchiness is being perpetuated by you rubbing your eyes. Using artificial tears instead will make them feel better without putting anything new in your eyes to make the itching worse.

That's what I do when my eyes itch: two or three drops in each eye, then I run my eyes around three or four times, then daub off all the excess with a tissue.

You want to avoid the kind that "gets the red out". Using those regularly results in rebound irritation. (It's like some kinds of nasal decongestants; you can become addicted.)

The anti-itch kind that you got probably has an anti-histamine in it. That's fine for occasional use, but not for routine use multiple times per day.

Several times per day is just fine with artificial tears, though, as long as you get the kind that doesn't have any active drug. (They do contain things like glycerine and hypromellose, which act as lubricants in your eye socket. Without that, your eye socket can become irritated, and that hurts a lot.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:27 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm no doctor, but I honestly can't think of anything this could be but allergies. You might try Visine's antihistimine eye drops (they also have 12-hour eye drops now). I'm an allergy sufferer and I found these to be so much more effective than plain ol' vanilla eye drops.
posted by puritycontrol at 3:31 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sounds like allergies to me.

Right around my 26th birthday I was cursed blessed with adult onset springtime allergies. Now when the allergy season rolls around, I buy about 30 days worth of generic allergy meds. When the pills run out, my allergy season is over.


* Some allergy medications can take up to 48 hours to take effect.
posted by axismundi at 3:33 PM on May 31, 2010

Are you taking any other medications? Check the side effects. Some birth controls, for example, can cause really dry eyes.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:36 PM on May 31, 2010

Yeah, I've had the same luck as Axismundi, although adult onset allergies waited an additional year. Not wearing contacts and using Alaway (OTC antihistimine eyedrops) saved me on the worst days.

I would also suggest going to Walmart vision center (or somewhere similar) and tell them you have some irritation in your eyes and you'd like a doc to look at it. That's what I did and it only cost me about 30 bucks with no insurance. He dropped some stuff in my eyes, looked them over, and told me I had allergies compounded by dry weather. Total exam time- 10 minutes. My eyes were so irritated at that point that he prescribed me some steroid eye drops, but they were only $29 with no insurance, so it wasn't a huge financial hit.

Now that tree pollen season is winding down here in the midwest, I'm fine (just some standard rewetting drops and not wearing my contacts for 18 hours a day has helped IMMENSELY!)

Definitely get your eyes looked at. You only have one set, so you have to take care of them!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 4:04 PM on May 31, 2010

Also, I wanted to add that Alaway is 12 hour, so you only NEED a drop in each eye, twice a day and it works wonders.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 4:05 PM on May 31, 2010

Yeah, you want to go somewhere that has a competent eye doctor-- perhaps a free clinic near you, perhaps there's a teaching eye hospital in your area that does clinics for folks without insurance.

You could just have allergies, or you could have something like blepharitis, where the eyelids get inflamed and require special eyelid care, antibiotic ointment, or steroid+antibiotic drops.

Blepharitis is a right pain in the ass and antihistamines won't make it go away, so a proper diagnosis should definitely be on your to-do list.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:10 PM on May 31, 2010

Gah. Spend the money to fix a months-long problem. $115 is not a lot when you consider that you only get one set of eyes in this lifetime.
posted by runningwithscissors at 4:44 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

This certainly seems worth some money to sort out since as runningwithscissors says, you only get one set. I'd bet on allergies. Sometime in the last 3-4 years I developed fierce dust allergies which started to manifest the most noticeably in my eyes. They got itchy and red and burned and then I was PULLING STRINGY STICKY GOO out of them. That was alarming enough to get me to the eye doctor who prescribed Patanol. Which is awesome but prescription only and kind of expensive. Now that I have the general allergy situation controlled otherwise, she suggested I try generic Walgreens Anti-Itch Eye Drops. So long as I'm taking my other allergy meds and I use the drops consistently they work just fine. Maybe start there - but be very consistent about using them since it takes a few days for any allergy meds to build up in your system and be effective.

But yeah, go get them checked out properly. I'll experiment will all kinds of OTC stuff but when it comes to my eyes I tend not to want to mess around.
posted by marylynn at 7:41 PM on May 31, 2010

It definitely sounds like my allergy symptoms - which, as others have mentioned, started for me in my mid-twenties. I'd try some allergy meds - it's a fairly cheap first step. You might have to try a few to figure out what works for you. Fortunately almost all are available generic, OTC, and you can buy in small amounts. However, do note that some of them can make you very sleepy so, you know, "avoid operating heavy machinery" and all that. Personally, I like Zyrtec - Allegra and Claritin put me to sleep. But YMMV with any of them.

I'm not sure I agree with above suggestions to try saline eye drops. They're not going to hurt, but for me "dry eyes" and "itchy eyes" are two different things.
posted by radioamy at 8:22 PM on May 31, 2010

Please use OTC eyedrops according to their instructions. My dad didn't, he used them way too much, and he sterilized his eye and ended up with a slight degree of permanent blepharitis.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:20 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, so after lurking for months, this is the question that made me set up my account!

I also have adult-onset allergies, which have always meant sniffles for a couple weeks, alleviated with Claritin.

But this year, starting around January, my left eye started watering constantly. And it started leaking yellow goo. All the time. But I don't have health insurance either, so I didn't do anything except start carrying kleenex everywhere. For three months. Finally, I got my tax refund, and took myself to the Walgreens clinic.

The nurse got me hooked up with OTC Zaditor eye drops, and told me to start taking the Claritin religiously instead of occasionally. The first time I used the eye drops, I realized that the fabulous sensation was my eyes not itching. For the first time in months. The other fabulous sensation was relaxing in the knowledge that I did not have untreated pinkeye or some other degenerative infection and I was not going to go blind.

However, the watering kept up. Until two weeks ago. When I forked over the money to try the generic Zyrtec (10x more expensive than the generic Claritin). Two days later, my eye was no longer watering. For the first time in five months.

Moral: Probably allergies, but also probably worth it to check out a clinic. And try a couple allergy meds if the first one doesn't solve the problem. I now swear by Zaditor and Zyrtec. Even though Claritin worked for all of my other allergy symptoms for years. Don't be stupid like me! See a doc and get some meds!
posted by freshwater at 11:17 PM on May 31, 2010

Nthing be careful with allergy eyedrops especially, and anything but artificial tears in general. If you overuse them, you can permanently damage your eyes.
posted by smoke at 5:15 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are bacterial infections that can cause this too: blepharitis is possible as well. It's easy to diagnose and treat in the early stages, but won't generally go away on its own. Given how severe your symptoms are, I'd want to get that checked out.
posted by bonehead at 6:10 AM on June 1, 2010

So what could be causing the itchiness in my eyes?

It depends on when your eyes are most itchy. It may sound like an oversimplification, but observing when your eyes are most sore (although they may be somewhat sore all the time) goes a long way to identifying the cause and treating it.

Sorest in the morning (i.e. from 2 hours after going to bed until 1-2 hours after waking up in the morning): Discomfort in the morning suggests an inflammatory cause and is pretty much never from dry eyes. Inflammation hurts most at night because (a) your eyes are closed and (b) you make less tears, so all of those inflammatory chemicals just hang around and piss you off. During the day you're making tears and blinking them away, taking the inflammatory chemicals with them. The common chronic inflammatory conditions include the aforementioned blepharitis and allergic conjunctivitis. There are also some rarer medical conditions in this group.

Sorest by the end of the day: This is usually dry eye. We spend most of the day with our eyes open, and naturally some of our tears evaporate. If you're not producing enough tears or the surface of your eye isn't holding onto that moisture you're going to notice it more as the day goes on. Very few people have pure dry eye; there's usually an inflammatory component too.

Sore in the morning and sore at night, with some small relief in the middle of the day: This suggests a mixture of inflammation and dry eyes. Your inflammatory chemicals are washed away providing brief relief around lunch time before your eyes start drying out. A lot of people have a mixed cause, and it's not always 50/50. Long-standing blepharitis accounts for most the majority, but there are other causes including those associated with chronic joint and autoimmune conditions.

Is there anything I can do to fix it on my own?

Absolutely. Most causes of chronic itchy eyes can be treated with over the counter remedies or simple eye care practices you can do at home.

If you have blepharitis (and you may well have it, even if there are other things more important to your current problem), I recommend lid hygiene in the form of lid scrubs and warm compresses. The instructions for doing these are outlined in a yellow table about half way down this page. Don't expect to feel magically better after one round -- lid hygiene is something you do once or twice a day every day (even when well) to gradually improve things and, once improved, keep it from returning. Supplementing it with a lubricating eye drop a few times a day helps. Not everyone responds to lid hygiene and lubricants alone; you'd need to see a doctor to go to the next level.

Lubricants are the other thing to go for. These are over-the-counter, non-medicated (make sure it's non-medicated) drops/gels/ointments with polymers and such that help lubricate the eye and keep it lubricated. If you're trying to wash away inflammation I'd recommend a drop which is thinner, whereas the thicker gels and ointments provide longer-lasting relief from dry eyes. That said, many of the drops work just fine for dry eyes and are less messy/inconvenient to use during the day. As for brands, it's much of a muchness -- find one that works for you.

The standard, non-medicated drops/gels/ointments can safely be applied up to four times a day long-term. If you're requiring them more frequently than that, switch to a preservative-free lubricant so you don't anger your eyes even more.

If you think your eyes might be drying out, wrap-around sunglasses, while kinda dorky, might protect your eyes from wind, air-conditioning, and other drying elements.

The above treatments are safe and a good first-line to try.

Another thing you might consider if you strongly suspect allergies is a daily oral antihistamine. The non-sedating over-the-counter ones are all pretty safe. If you're going the self-medication route I personally wouldn't dabble with medicated anti-allergy eye drops unless you've exhausted the above and really don't want to see a doctor.

And if it's absolutely necessary to make any doctor visits, how can I keep the costs down?

I can't offer advice specific to your health system, but generally speaking if you do see a doctor be compliant with their suggestions. Give each treatment a chance to work before you're instructed to discontinue it. Getting to the bottom of itchy eyes can take a while, and half-treating things through non-compliance means more appointments to get it right.

Finally you may always have some degree of discomfort, but hardly anyone remains in the agony they were in when they first presented for treatment. Best of luck!

P.S. My first recommendation is of course to see a doctor, but not all health systems are created equal so I've offered my own 2 cents in case it can help. Generally these things aren't emergencies, but if you notice any dramatic increase in redness, decrease in vision, painful sensitivity to light, nasty discharges, or anything else that worries you, bite the bullet and see someone urgently.
posted by teem at 7:01 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

My allergies are terrible. Opcon-A eye drops work the best for me.
posted by Annetess at 12:08 PM on June 1, 2010

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