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Itchy Eyes: How to Treat and Prevent Them

Itchy eyes are common, and they can be more than just an annoyance. Find out the causes of the discomfort and what you can do to ease the irritation.

A woman with a white medical mask rubbing her eye with one hand

If your eyes are itching, your first reaction might be to rub them. However, you’ll often find that this doesn’t relieve your eyes or remove the irritants causing it. If you have itchy eyes, knowing what is causing it is the key to treatment and relief. Learn the best ways to soothe your irritated eyes and how to prevent this condition from happening again. 

What Causes Itchy Eyes 

Itchy eyes are your body’s response to invading allergens, irritants, viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Triggers include exposure to dust, mould, makeup, pollen, dander, smoke and even medication or birth control pills. 

Other symptoms may accompany the itchiness and can cause an infection such as pink eye or blepharitis. You’re at a higher risk of infections if you wear contact lenses.

Another cause of itchy eyes is excessive dryness when your eyes don’t make enough lubricating tears to wash off the dirt. 

Ways to Treat Itchy Eyes  

Rather than reaching for a bottle of eye drops in your medicine cabinet, consider these remedies below. 

Don’t rub your eyes 

The itch, watering, and desire to rub your eyes are your body’s initial reaction to trying to remove the allergen or irritant. Try not to rub your eyes as you could accidentally scratch your cornea, introduce germs, and even get an eye infection, making things worse.

Cold compress  

Make a cold compress washcloth and place it on your closed eyes to soothe the itch. You can also use an icepack as an alternative to a washcloth.

Eye bath  

Washing your peepers with cool water is soothing, similar to a cold compress. Warm water or saline irrigation can also help remove any foreign matter if this is the cause of the irritation. 

You may have a serious infection if the itch doesn’t subside with the above remedies. It could be contagious, and you could infect others, so contact your ophthalmologist immediately. 

How to Prevent Itchy Eyes

Woman closing windows.
Dust can trigger itchy eyes.

Avoid triggers as the first preventive measure: 

  • Close your windows to prevent pollen, dust, smoke, and other irritants from entering your living space. 
  • Maintain good air quality inside your home or office with an air purifier. Turn on a humidifier if you live in a dry climate and have dry eyes.  
  • In humid countries like Malaysia, a dehumidifier at home prevents mould. 
  • Avoid places where smoking is allowed indoors. 
  • Wash your face properly every night to remove dirt that can settle and enter your eyes.  
  • Be diligent about cleaning and hydrating contact lenses if you wear them. Consider switching to a daily disposable brand if you wear monthlies.  
  • Got allergies? Work with an immunologist to see if a daily prescription of anti-allergy medication can help. You may want to consider allergy shots, which will desensitise you to the allergen. 

The TCM Approach: Beyond Itchy Eyes 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a different approach to itchy eyes. Real Health Medical TCM physician Brandon Yew explains that eye conditions indicate a systemic issue.

“In TCM, different components of the eye have direct connections to respectively different organs, and therefore, eye conditions can indicate internal problems of certain organs or systems,” he says. 

“From the TCM perspective, Wind, Heat/Fire, Cold and Dry pathogens, which can be either exogenous or endogenous, can cause itchy eyes.

For the former, it is from the surrounding environment (natural or man-made) that the patient is exposed to. For the latter, it arises from the internal imbalance of the yin (cooling energy, bodily fluids) and yang (warming energy) among the viscera, especially the Liver, Heart, Lungs, and Kidneys.” 

Real Health Medical TCM physician Brandon Yew

TCM aims to re-establish balance through herbal medicine and acupuncture to complement the clinical intervention of itchy eyes. 

Acupoints for treating itchy eyes include cheng qi (ST1, 承泣), tai xi (KI3, 太溪), and san yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交). 

Orange marigolds in a garden.
Herbs like marigold flowers help improve eye health.

These herbs can help with the condition: 

  • Dendrobium (shi hu, 石斛)  
  • Flatstem milkvetch seed (sha yuan zi, 沙苑子)  
  • Dodder seed (tu si zi, 菟丝子)  
  • Gastrodia tuber (tian ma, 天麻)  

In 2016, the Journal of Functional Foods published a study demonstrating the efficacy of TCM herbs on age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Researchers prescribed a lutein-zeaxanthin complex containing extracts of marigold (wan shou ju, 万寿菊) and wolfberry to 56 participants over five months. They found that the supplementation significantly lowered oxidative stress markers in the participants, helping reduce the incidence of AMD. 

A supplement to try is i-Bright, which has marigold flower extract and can improve eye strain, blurred vision, and redness.

Taking a natural approach to eye health reduces the incidence of eye irritations like itchiness and ensures you have healthy eyes for years to come. Be sure to work with licensed TCM professionals if you’re looking to incorporate herbs into your routine. 

Avoid itchy eyes temporarily with soothing remedies and preventive practices. Discover the causes of itchy eyes from a holistic approach, and not only will they happen less, but you’ll also have healthier and stronger eyes.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Itchy, Red Eyes? How to Tell If It’s Allergy or Infection. [online] Available at:itchy-eyes <https://health.clevelandclinic.org/itchy-red-eyes-how-to-tell-if-its-allergy-or-infection/> [Accessed 11 October 2022] 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Which Drops Are Best for Your Itchy, Red or Dry Eyes? [online] Available at: <https://health.clevelandclinic.org/choosing-right-eye-drops-itchy-dry-watery-eyes/> [Accessed 11 October 2022]
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Why Are My Eyes Itchy? Answers From an Expert. [online] Available at: <https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/why-are-my-eyes-itchy-answers-from-an-expert> [Accessed 11 October 2022]
  4. HealthDirect.gov.au. 2020. Itchy eyes. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/itchy-eyes> [Accessed 11 October 2022]
  5. MyVision.org. 2022. Why Are My Eyes Itchy: Causes and Treatment. [online] Available at: <https://myvision.org/eye-health/itchy-eyes/> [Accessed 11 October 2022]
  6. Journal of Functional Foods. 2016. Influence/impact of lutein complex (marigold flower and wolfberry) on visual function with early age-related macular degeneration subjects: A randomized clinical trial. [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1756464616300603> [Accessed 11 October 2022]

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