In the corner of each eye — the corner closest to your nose — are tear ducts. One duct, or passageway, is in the upper eyelid and one is in the lower eyelid.
These tiny openings are known as the puncta, and they allow excess tears to drain from the surface of the eye into the nose. This is why you sometimes get a runny nose when you cry.
In addition to the puncta, the corner of the eye also contains the lacrimal caruncle. It’s the small pink section in the corner of the eye. It’s made up of glands that secrete oils to keep the eye moist and protect it against bacteria.
Allergies, infections, and several other causes can trigger ocular pruritus, the medical term for itchy eyes.
Most conditions that cause the corners of your eyes to become itchy aren’t serious enough to affect your vision or long-term eye health.
But some causes of itchy eyes, such as an inflammation of the eye called blepharitis, can be problematic because flareups tend to recur often.
In some cases, the itchiness can be felt in the inner corners of the eyes near the tear ducts or in the outer corners of the eyes, farther away from the puncta.
Your glands produce tears to help moisten your eyes and keep them healthy. When there aren’t enough tears to keep your eyes moist, you can experience dry and itchy eyes, especially in the corners.
Dry eyes become more common as you get older because your glands produce fewer tears. Other dry eye triggers include:
- improper contact lens use
- cold and windy weather
- certain medications, including antihistamines, birth control pills, and diuretics
- medical conditions, such as diabetes, Sjogren’s syndrome, thyroid disease and lupus
In addition to itchiness, other symptoms that often accompany dry eyes can include redness, soreness, and sensitivity to light.
Allergies trigger an inflammatory response in the body, which can bring on a range of symptoms, such as:
- watery discharge
- a burning sensation
Allergy symptoms can affect not just the corners of the eyes, but the entire eye, including the eyelids. Allergens that can cause eye irritation can come from:
- outdoor sources like pollen
- indoor sources like dust mites, mold, or pet dander
- airborne irritants like cigarette smoke and diesel engine exhaust
Meibomian gland dysfunction
Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) occurs when the gland that produces the oily layer of tears stops working properly.
The glands are found in the upper and lower eyelids. When they aren’t producing enough oil, the eyes can dry out.
Along with feeling itchy and dry, your eyes may become swollen and sore. The eyes may also become watery, causing blurry vision.
When the inner eyelid is inflamed (posterior blepharitis), problems with the meibomian gland or skin problems like rosacea or dandruff are typically the cause. Blepharitis causes eyelid swelling and soreness, along with itchiness and redness.
Infants, who have very narrow lacrimal ducts, can sometimes experience blockage and infections. But as children grow, such complications are rare.
The corner of the eye can feel itchy and painful. You may also have discharge from the corner of your eye or sometimes a fever.
Pink eye is the common term for conjunctivitis, which can be a bacterial or viral infection, or an allergic reaction. Along with itchiness around the tear ducts, symptoms of conjunctivitis can include:
- pink or red color in the whites of the eyes
- pus-like discharge from the corners of the eyes, causing a crust to form overnight
- increased tear production
- swelling of the conjunctiva (the outer layer of the white part of the eye) and puffiness around the eyelids
Broken blood vessel
When one of the tiny blood vessels in the eye breaks, it’s called a subconjunctival hemorrhage.
In addition to causing a bright red spot to appear in the white part of your eye (sclera), your eye may also feel itchy or as if something was irritating the lid.
Those symptoms will be felt wherever the hemorrhage occurs, whether in the corner or elsewhere in the eye.
Something in your eye
Sometimes itchiness results not from a medical condition but from a speck of dust or sand or an eyelash caught under your eyelid or in the corner of your eye. This can temporarily block a tear duct.
Contact lenses can help improve vision without the inconvenience of eyeglasses, but they can also cause numerous eye problems.
Wearing lenses for too long or failing to keep them sanitized can cause everything from dry eye to a bacterial infection. When lenses interfere with tear production, you may feel itchiness in the corners of your eyes.
You can also experience eye fatigue and the sensation that something is still in your eye even after you’ve removed your lenses.
When the corners of your eyes are itchy, a simple home remedy may make them feel better.
Sometimes all it takes to relieve the itchiness of dry eyes is an over-the-counter eye drop known as artificial tears.
A damp, cold compress across your closed eyes can help soothe the itchiness.
An effective treatment for MGD and blepharitis is holding a damp, warm compress (not boiling hot) on your closed eyes.
Take two normal tea bags and steep them as though you were making tea. Then squeeze most of the liquid from the bags and place them on your closed eyes — warm or cool — for up to 30 minutes.
If a case of dry eyes is easily relieved by eye drops, compresses, or by getting out of a smoky or windy environment, you probably don’t need to see a doctor.
However, if your itchy eyes are accompanied by discharge or puffiness, see your doctor or go to an urgent care center or emergency room. If the problem is a bacterial infection, for example, you will need antibiotics to resolve it.
Infrequent bouts of dry eyes or minor irritation can usually be treated easily and inexpensively. But if you have repeated episodes of itchy, red, or swollen eyes, see a doctor who specializes in eye disorders, such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
Most itchy eye problems are minor annoyances. But infections that start off with minor symptoms can lead to more serious health problems if not treated properly.