What’s Causing My Eye Irritation?

December 11th, 2019

Learn more about five common causes of eye irritation and how you can get relief.

Eye irritation is so commonplace that it’s not hard to identify the signs — eyes that are red, itchy, watery, and painful. Your eyes are very quick to tell you that something’s wrong, but how can you identify the culprit? Is it an eyelash? Is it air pollution? Here’s how to find relief from five common causes of eye irritation.


Eye irritation is a major symptom of seasonal allergies, especially pollen in the spring and summer months. Dust, mold, pet dander, tobacco smoke, and chlorine can all make your eyes itchy and uncomfortable. If you experience eye irritation soon after coming into contact with any of these substances, allergens might be the cause.

Luckily, allergy relief is easily accessible. Most allergy medications and antihistamines are designed to relieve itchy eyes, and you can buy sterile eye drops to help with the redness. If you’re strongly affected by environmental allergens like pollen or ragweed, stay indoors when the count is high and use an air purifier indoors. You can also use a cool compress to soothe irritated eyes that are tender to the touch.   



Foreign Objects

Your eyelashes do a good job of protecting your eyes from physical irritants, but sometimes objects make it through this first line of defense. Sawdust, dirt, eyelashes, fibers from tight sleeping eye masks, and other tiny objects can get in your eyes and cause pain, itchiness, and sensitivity to light. 

Treatment involves safely removing the object, but you should never touch your eye with your fingers or try to physically remove it. Gently flush your eyes with water and try to let the object come out on its own.  

A foreign object in the eye can be very serious and permanently damage your vision, so it’s important to see a doctor if pain or irritation persists. They will check you for a scratched cornea, help you remove the object safely, and prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection.


Conjunctivitis, commonly known as “pink eye,” is a very common eye condition among children, but adults can catch it as well. Pink eye is an infection of the conjunctiva, the thin layer of tissue between the eye and eyelid. Symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, redness, discharge, and excessive tearing. 

There are three different kinds of conjunctivitis — allergic, infectious/bacterial, and chemical — and the treatment varies by type. Infectious conjunctivitis should clear up on its own in seven days, just like the common cold. Allergic conjunctivitis can be relieved with the same techniques used to treat standard eye irritation. If you have chemical conjunctivitis from contact with toxic chemicals or pollutants, you should see an eye doctor immediately. 

Digital Eye Strain

As our lives revolve more and more around screens, digital eye strain is an increasingly common cause of eye irritation. After staring at a computer or phone screen for an extended period of time without breaks, your eyes can feel dry and itchy.

The good news is that digital eye strain is temporary and should subside once you take a break.

The American Optometric Association recommends the 20-20-20 rule: be sure to take 20 seconds of eye rest by looking at something 20 feet away for every 20 minutes of intensive screen work. 

Improperly Cleaned Contact Lenses 

Dirty contact lenses can cause irritation and compromise your eye’s overall health. If something is wrong with your contact lenses it will feel just like any other foreign object in your eye.

Make sure you clean, rinse, and disinfect your contact lenses daily. Follow this tried-and-true approach to protect your eyes:

  • Wash your hands with a non-moisturizing soap and dry them on a lint-free towel.
  • Remove one lens and clean it with your contact solution of choice by placing the lens in a palmful of solution and gently rubbing it.
  • Rinse the lens again to clear away any dislodged debris. 
  • Place the clean lens in your lens case and fill with fresh solution.
  • Repeat this process for the other lens.

If you’re experiencing persistent eye irritation and none of these solutions have worked, contact the eye care professionals at ICON Eye Care as soon as possible. Our licensed doctors will get to the bottom of the problem and help restore your clear, healthy vision.

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Give us a phone call at (970) 256-0400 Monday – Friday, 8am-5pm to schedule a consultation.

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