Itchy Eyes at Night

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD on February 22, 2017Written by Ashley Marcin on February 22, 2017

Why do my eyes itch at night?

Itchy eyes may be uncomfortable, especially when you’re trying to fall asleep. There are several reasons you may notice itchy eye symptoms only at night. One reason may be because you’re not as busy as you are at other points during the day. You may be more in tune with your body in the evening when things are quieter.

Working outside of your home in the daytime may mean you’re exposed to different allergens in your home at night. For example, at the office you might have air conditioning. At home, you may open windows to get a cool breeze — and possibly pollen — from outdoors.

What causes itchy eyes at night?

Your itchy eyes and other symptoms could have a root cause. You may do activities at night you don’t do during the day that expose you to certain allergens. Long hours of computer work may strain your eyes and make them itchy by the end of the day. Your eyes may even be dry throughout the day and get worse by nighttime, causing itching.

Allergic reaction

An allergic reaction of your eyes or eyelids is a likely cause of your itching. You may be exposed to different personal care products before bed that you don’t use the rest of the day. Or maybe you are allergic to the down in your pillow or the dust on your nightstand.

Some possible triggers include:

  • soaps, detergents, and other chemicals
  • acids and alkalis
  • dust, pollen, and dander
  • drying agents
  • cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and perfume
  • eye makeup, such as eyeliner, eyeshadow, and mascara
  • personal care products like hair dye, nail polish, etc.
  • sunscreen

Very thin skin covers your eyelids. Your eyes and eyelids are sensitive to different allergens in your environment. You may not develop itching on another part of your body even if you are allergic to something that bothers your eyes.

Eyestrain

Eyestrain is another possible cause of burning, itchy eyes. Common causes of eyestrain include looking at digital screens all day or driving long distances. Eyestrain may develop at night if you are trying to read in a dimly lit spot or if you haven’t stopped to rest your eyes. Being stressed or tired may cause you develop eyestrain. The air from heating or air-conditioning may also strain your eyes and make them itch.

Other symptoms of eyestrain include:

  • blurred vision
  • headache
  • sore neck, shoulders, or back
  • sensitivity to light
  • trouble concentrating
  • trouble keeping your eyes open

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is another condition that can cause eyelid inflammation. This condition occurs when the oil glands on the hair follicles of your eyelids become clogged and irritated. There are several different causes, including:

  • eyelash mites
  • bacterial infection
  • medication side effects
  • malfunctioning oil glands

Along with itching, you may experience crusting around your eyelids and eyelashes. Your symptoms may be worse at night.

Dry eyes

Dry eyes tend to get worse throughout the day, leading to scratching and other sensations at night. You may start out feeling fine when you wake up, but as the day progresses, you’ll notice dryness, grittiness, or even burning. These symptoms can be worse if you wear contact lenses.

You may also experience:

  • stringy mucous around your eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • redness in your eyes
  • feeling like you have something in your eyes
  • trouble wearing contacts
  • watery eyes
  • trouble with driving at night
  • blurred vision
  • eye fatigue

While dry eyes can sometimes cause itching, the sensation you will usually feel is more of a burning or scratching. Mild cases of dry eye may feel better if you use artificial tears throughout the day. Your doctor can prescribe medications for more severe cases.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, is another cause of itchy eyes. If you have this common eye disease, your eyes will usually be very red and itch all day vs. just at night. Pinkeye is very contagious, so you should see your doctor right away if you think you have it.

How is the cause of itchy eyes diagnosed?

If you’ve noticed that your eyes are itchy at night, you may want to visit your doctor or ophthalmologist. After explaining your symptoms, your doctor will ask for your medical history and give you a physical exam.

Patch tests can be useful with diagnosing allergies. Your doctor may also examine your eyelids and swab your skin to test any oil or crust that has accumulated. It may be helpful for you to write down anything in your nightly routine that might be triggering your itching. You can share this information with your doctor to help with diagnosis.

How are itchy eyes treated?

The treatment for itchy eyes at night depends on the underlying cause.

Allergies

There are many ways to help treat allergies in your eyes. You can use artificial tears, decongestant eye drops, or even oral antihistamines. You can buy many of these items over the counter at your local drug store.

Your doctor may also prescribe stronger medications if your symptoms are severe. These may include:

  • eye drops, including decongestants, antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, corticosteroids, and NSAIDs
  • allergy shots
  • oral antihistamines, though these medications may dry eyes and make them feel worse

Eyestrain

Treatment for eyestrain involves lifestyle measures, like taking breaks from activities that tax your eyes.

You may also want to follow the 20-20-20 Rule, which means you take a break every 20 minutes from activities like computer work. Use that time to look off into the distance 20 feet for 20 seconds, which is how long it takes your eyes to relax.

Blepharitis

Treatment for blepharitis depends on the type you have. What’s most important is to keep your eyelids and eyelashes clean and free of crusting. You can use a warm compress to loosen crusting. You may also use water and baby shampoo to clean around your eyes. Your doctor may need to prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.

What is the outlook for eyes that itch at night?

If your eyes are itching at night due to an allergic reaction, your outlook is good. Once you’ve identified the substance that is causing your itching, you can avoid it.

If eyestrain is causing your itching, your outlook is also good. You can work with your doctor to identify and change any habits that may be contributing to strain.

Blepharitis rarely goes away entirely, but you can manage your symptoms by practicing good hygiene and trying different treatments prescribed by your doctor.

How can I prevent itchy eyes at night?

You may want to keep a log of the things that seem to trigger your itchy eyes at night. Identifying what may be causing the itching can help you avoid it and lessen or stop your symptoms.

Prevention for allergic reactions:

  • Keep your windows shut to keep pollen out of your home in the evening hours. A fan or air conditioner can keep you cool.
  • Slip some mite-proof bedding onto your bed to lessen your exposure to dust mites.
  • Use a dehumidifier to lessen the mold in your home.
  • Wash your hands before removing contact lenses, after petting animals, or after touching anything you suspect might be bothering your eyes.
  • Wash your face to remove eye makeup and other cosmetics before heading to bed.

Prevention for eyestrain:

  • Limit the time you spend looking at screens throughout the day.
  • Follow the 20-20-20 Rule if you have to spend long periods of time on your computer or other devices.
  • Only read in well-lit areas and take frequent breaks to give your eyes a rest.
  • Wear glasses or contacts if you need them to read or work at the computer. Resist squinting to see better.
  • Consider using artificial tears to lubricate your eyes.

Blepharitis is a chronic condition, so you may not be able to prevent it. Keeping your eyes clean can ease flare-ups and symptoms. You may want to skip wearing makeup for a while. Using artificial tears and controlling any dandruff or mites can also help.

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