Why are my eyes dry and itchy?

If you’re experiencing dry, itchy eyes, it could be the result of a number of factors. Some of the most common causes of itchiness include:

Dry eyes, also known as dry eye syndrome, are typically caused by inadequate tears. This means your eyes either don’t produce enough tears or there’s a chemical imbalance in the makeup of your tears.

Tears are made up of a mixture of fatty oils, mucus, and water. They create a thin film that covers the surface of your eyes to help protect them from infection or damage from external factors.

If your eyes are consistently more dry than itchy, you may want to consult your doctor to see if you have dry eye syndrome.

Symptoms of dry eyes include:

  • redness
  • stinging, scratching, or burning sensations
  • light sensitivity
  • watery eyes
  • stringy mucus near the eye
  • blurry vision

Simple ways to treat dry, itchy eyes at home include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops. Dry, itchy eyes can be treated with OTC eye drops, especially ones without preservatives. These can range from artificial tears to eye drops for allergies or redness.
  • Cold compresses. Soak a washcloth in cold water and then place it over your closed eyes. This compress helps soothe your eyes and can be repeated as many times as needed.

You can reduce the probability of having dry and itchy eyes by taking certain steps and avoiding certain irritants. Recommendations include:

  • using a humidifier to add moisture to dry air inside your home
  • positioning screens (computer, TV, etc.) below eye level, as you subconsciously widen your eyes when looking above eye level
  • blinking repeatedly or closing your eyes for a few seconds while working, reading, or doing other long tasks that strain your eyes
  • following the 20-20-20 rule when working on your computer: about every 20 minutes, look about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds
  • wearing sunglasses, even when you don’t think it’s necessary, since they block UV rays from the sun and they protect your eyes from wind and other dry air
  • avoiding air getting blown in your eyes by directing car heaters away from your face and onto your lower body instead
  • avoiding environments that’re drier than normal, such as deserts, airplanes, and places at high altitude
  • avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke

See your doctor if you’re experiencing dry and itchy eyes along with symptoms such as:

  • severe irritation or pain
  • severe headaches
  • nausea
  • swelling
  • blood or pus in eye discharge
  • loss of vision
  • double vision
  • halos appearing around lights
  • direct injury, such as a bump during an auto accident

The presence of any of these may indicate a more serious underlying condition.

You’re more likely to experience dry, itchy eyes during winter, due to the dry air. Dry, itchy eyes are also common during allergy season when there are more allergens present in the air.

In most cases, treatment of eye dryness and itch is fairly simple and straightforward. Eyes tend to recover quickly within a few days of starting treatment.

If you have persistent dryness and itch or you experience additional symptoms, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment options.