Causes of eye irritation and how to treat


Woman with sore eyes

Most of us will have suffered from minor eye irritation at some point in our lives. Generally this is something that's over and done with quickly, but there are occasions when eye irritation can be been more than just an inconvenience. So, let's look at eye irritation in depth, to examine its causes, potential outcomes and treatments.


What can cause eye irritation?

Your eyes can irritate for many different reasons. Here are the main causes:

  • A foreign body in your eye

    There are a wide range of possibilities, and some of the more common ones include an eyelash, dust particles and sand or grit. The foreign body may cause your eyes to feel itchy and dry, irritated and gritty as a result.

  • Eye allergies

    Eye allergies may be seasonal, for example, they may occur in the spring and summer months when tree, grass and flower pollens trigger allergic reactions, causing problems for many people. This type of eye allergy is often referred to as seasonal conjunctivitis. However, some of us may suffer eye allergies all year round, known as chronic, or perennial, conjunctivitis. It's also possible for allergens, other than plant pollens, to get into your eye and cause an allergic reaction.  These include pet’s dander and house dust which are often called "indoor allergies." House dust can contain spores of fungus, moulds and animal dandruff, which may all cause year round problems for those allergic to them.

  • Scratched cornea

    The front surface of your eye (the cornea) can get damaged or scratched. If this happens, people find it particularly annoying. Not only does the scratchy, irritated feeling get on your nerves, it also makes it difficult to stop blinking. Whatever it is that has brought about the irritation, your eye can react by becoming inflamed or may water. This reaction is part of the eye’s natural defense mechanism in an attempt to try to clear away the irritation, together with needing to blink more often. Your natural reaction is to rub your eye, but this can only make the situation worse and may cause even more damage.


What conditions are associated with irritation?


  • Red Eye


    The term "Red Eye" is a general description of eyes that are irritated and become bloodshot.

    Red Eye can result from some of the conditions we've already mentioned, like infections or allergies or for other reasons, like wearing contact lenses for too long. It may commonly also result from:

    • Eye fatigue
    • The effect of chlorine in swimming pools
    • Staring at a screen for too long
    • Lack of sleep


    Red Eye can also be associated with some other conditions:

    • Leaking of a blood vessel in the conjunctiva which lies over the sclera of your eye known as a subconjunctival haemorrhage
    • Inflamed edges of the eyelids - known as blepharitis
    • A small reddish lump on the eyelid, known as a "stye"


  • Dry Eye


    Another condition linked to irritation is called Dry Eye. Like Red Eye, there can be many causes.

    When you blink, your eyelids spread tears across your eyes to form a film. This acts to prevent evaporation of moisture from the eyes, helping them remain hydrated. Should you not produce enough tears, or a disruption in the protective lipid layer of the tear film develops, it can lead to feelings of dryness and irritation, or grittiness as it's sometimes described. This is Dry Eye.

    Dry Eye can be triggered in several different ways:

    • Staring at a screen too long without blinking frequently enough can result in poor distribution of the tear film across the eye
    • Air conditioning or office fans and central heating systems can cause the eyes to become drier
    • Ageing - as we get older we produce fewer tears
    • Contact lenses - prolonged wearing can be a cause of Dry Eye
    • Some medications may cause Dry Eye as a side effect
    • Certain medical conditions are associated with Dry Eye


    Dry Eye doesn't usually cause sufferers significant pain and vision should be as normal. If you suffer, you may find that symptoms get worse throughout the day though.

    So, how can you treat eye irritation and other symptoms associated with Red Eye and Dry Eye?


Eye Care from Optrex

There are various solutions in the Optrex range that can help you if you're suffering from irritated or dry eyes. These include Optrex ActiMist™ 2in1 Eye Spray for Dry + Irritated Eyes*, which may be particularly suited to you if you do not want to insert eye drops. Optrex Intensive Eye Drops can hydrate and lubricate dry eyes. Optrex Bloodshot Eye Drops are medicated to relieve red, bloodshot eyes caused by minor irritation. Optrex Bloodshot Eye Drops contains the active ingredients Hamamelis Virginiana and Naphazoline Hydrochloride. These drops are only available from a pharmacy.

For details of the full Optrex range, please follow this link to the Optrex Product Finder.

Optrex Bloodshot eye drops is a medicine. For the temporary relief of eye redness due to minor eye irritation. Always read the label.


*Dry, irritated, itchy, watery and tired eyes symptoms due to disturbed lipid layer of the tear film, approximately 80% of dry eye cases.