Why you have Dry Itchy Eyes (and what to do about it)

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: August 3, 2020
dry itchy eyes

If you have dry itchy eyes, you probably have allergic conjunctivitis

Dry itchy eyes are a fairly common symptom; affecting as many as 1/6th of the population. If you have “just plain” dry eyes, that indicates a meibomian gland dysfunction;meaning you don’t produce enough eye lubrication. That is treated with thick eye drops at night and thinner “see-through” eye drops during the day. I’m not a fan of the “eyelove” products which are drugs to increase tears. But back to itchy dry eyes. The itchy part usually comes from allergies. I’ll talk about the most common reason next, but think about what you are putting on your eyelids. Could it be an old mascara? Are you rubbing your eyes and transferring an allergen? Are you using an eyelash growing formula? And next; the most common reason- do you have nasal allergies?

itchy dry eyesAdults have allergic conjunctivitis more than children, but this can be developed at all ages at a chronic or acute level. Symptoms may include swollen eyes, or even blurred vision.

There are two versions of allergic conjunctivitis (happens during the fall and spring due to the increased exposure to allergens such as pollen) and perennial allergic conjunctivitis (occurs all year from the exposure of common allergens such as dust mites).

However, itchy dry eyes can be from a disease, such as dry eyes due to medications, prior surgery or illness-even due to age. The itchy part of the dry eyes occurs because people generally rub their dry eyes which then makes them itchy. Blepharitis is another consideration.

Dry eyes can definitely cause discomfort, but blepharitis is caused from a bacterial or skin condition that is non-contagious. It can even be caused by eyelid infestation with dust mites! (Ew!) Those with blepharitis may experience loss of eyelashes, and dry, itchy, and scaly eyelids. It is important to see an eye care professional right away if you do not have allergies but experience these symptoms.

Another irritation that happens commonly with those who wear contact lenses is sensitivity to contact lens solution. This may be caused from an ingredient called thimerosal which is found in most solutions, and is a main cause for an allergic reaction.

Diagnosing Your Itchy Dry Eyes

dry itchy eyesIf you have allergies, it is common to have dry itchy eyes. If you don’t have nasal symptoms the best place to start would be to see an Ophthalmologist.

She can diagnose the problem and give you eye drops to help. But to pin down the cause of the problem, you need to see an Allergist.

Recall that some cases of “ocular allergies” occur due to “hand-eye-transfer” and are actually a contact dermatitis of some sort-either irritant or allergic. Or (recall) they are due to contact dermatitis from an ingredient in an eye product.

Diagnostic Tests
  • Allergy skin testing
  • Patch testing if a contact-type dermatitis is suspected
  • Food allergy test (rare but possible)
  • Blood testing
  • Physical exam


Blepharitis is treated with eyes drops; antibiotics, steroids and (if you see me) colloidal silver and selected forms of essential oils. If you have allergies, you can avoid itchy eyes by avoiding the allergen that may cause it. This is usually easier said than done, unless you are found to have an easily avoidable contact dermatitis. Obvious examples would be avoidance of ingredients found in perfumes, skin care products, and things of that nature.

Always wear safety goggles when working around hazardous chemicals, wood working, or similar activities as small chips and fumes can produce ocular symptoms on a non-allergic, non-infectious irritant basis.

Here are some tips to prevent itchy (allergic) eye symptoms for both indoor and outdoor situations.

Indoor Itchy Eyes prevention
  • Regularly vacuum with a special HEPA filter
  • Keep pets off of the furniture, bed, and common places you spend time in if you are pet allergic or dust and dust-mite allergic. Some people experience symptoms around pets and may not be pet allergic at all! But, as silly as it sounds, your pets get “dusty” just like the furniture! Rub them down with eucalyptus oil to kill dust mites in their fur.
  • Keep air filters and air ducts clean, and run your air conditioner regularly
  • Do not smoke cigarettes
  • Check the news to follow pollen counts so you are always prepared
  • Dry clothes in a dryer; never on a clothesline
  • Wear protective gear doing yard work
  • Take a shower regularly after working outside
  • Keep your windows shut

Summary of Solutions

  • Ocular Medication that is prescribed by a doctor
  • Natural and preservative free eye drops
  • Environmental control
  • Contactant avoidance
  • Eye protection

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