Written by Dr. Robert Prado
You wake up in the middle of the night, and your eyes feel itchy. You try to get back to sleep, but you can’t stop thinking about how uncomfortable it is. You probably rub until they become red and inflamed, but the itchiness still persists. This can go on for weeks or months at a time, but as painful and uncomfortable as this nightly routine may be, know that you are not alone and you can get help.
First, it will help to know what’s causing your itchy eyes at night. There are many possible sources of your discomfort. In this guide we’ll cover possible root causes and how to help ease the discomfort.
In most cases, itchy eyes at night can be sourced back to your eyes coming in contact with a direct irritant.
For example, your eyes can itch if chemicals, such as shampoo, chlorine from a swimming pool, or sunscreen come into contact with them earlier that day. Other common irritants that can cause eye itching include:
You can try switching to a different makeup, moisturizer, or sunscreen to see if your daily products are the cause.
Wearing contact lenses for long periods, as well as putting them in or taking them out incorrectly can cause an itching sensation in the eyes. You may need professional advice about using contact lenses and how to reduce irritation while wearing them.
In other cases, itchy eyes at night may indicate an allergy. This can come from seasonal pollen allergies, the detergent you use for your sheets, or an allergy to dust mites. Even clean air can cause eye itching, especially when it is very hot, very cold, or the air is dry.
In rare cases, the itching sensation in the eyes can signify a serious condition that can be sight-threatening, e.g., uveitis. If you are experiencing discharge or significant swelling in tandem with the itching, contact your eye doctor right away to schedule an appointment.
The best way to relieve your nighttime itchy eyes will depend on what’s causing it. If a household product comes into contact with your eyes and causes an itching sensation, the first thing to do is check the product label for specific instructions. Although the itching or stinging may be significant at first, gently rinsing the eyes with plain water usually provides quick relief.
If you have allergies, your doctor may prescribe specific eye drops to minimize any itching you may experience during allergy season. If you are taking any allergy medicine or any other medicine that you think is causing your eyes to itch, talk with your doctor before you stop using it.
The itching sensation in the eyes caused by dry eyes can usually be relieved with lubricating eye drops (also called artificial tears). Look for a brand that does not contain any preservatives, especially if you plan to use these drops frequently. If your discomfort persists, let your eye doctor know, as other dry eye treatments may be more effective in relieving the itching sensation in the eye.
Cold compresses applied gently to your closed eyelids can also relieve the itching sensation in your eyes.
There’s only one way to find out if you have an allergy that’s causing itchy eyes at night. Your doctor may refer you to a professional immunologist or allergist for a more thorough evaluation.
Common triggers include—but are not limited to—pet hair and dust mites in the home. Consult your physician to see whether switching your medications or visiting a professional immunologist or allergist might help find and alleviate the source of nighttime itching in your eyes.
Don’t stare at a screen for long periods of time if you’re suffering from dry eyes or other eye irritations like pollen, dust, or strong odors, as it can make the irritation worse. The addition of wearing blue light glasses and taking breaks from your screens will help with this eye strain as well.
Allergy sufferers are inclined to seek out items labeled “hypoallergenic” to avoid an allergic response. Hypoallergenic products are those that have fewer allergens. However, just because a product is advertised as “hypoallergenic” doesn’t imply it won’t cause allergic reactions in certain people. This is because there is a wide range of allergy-inducing substance sensitivity among people.
Talk to your doctor and consider seeing an allergist if you suspect an allergy to a food, a pet, or other substances that may be causing itchy eyes.
Never “massage” your irritated eyes, no matter how much you want to. The irritation can be worsened by rubbing or scratching your eyes, which produces additional histamines.
A corneal abrasion or an eye infection can be caused by forcefully rubbing your eyes. Try rinsing your eyes with clean water or using a cold compress on your closed eyelids to relieve the discomfort.
You may have a problem with your sleep environment if your symptoms only appear at night. Have you redecorated or moved into a new place? Do you have any new pets in the house?
There are a few more factors to keep in mind if the above does not apply to you. Dust mite allergies, for example, might be to blame. These microscopic critters like warm, humid environments, such as the kind found in pillows, duvets, and mattresses. The presence of dust mites can trigger allergic reactions that may be the source of your irritation.
To decrease their impact, change your bed sheets regularly (once a week is best) and give your bedding a thorough shake before and after you sleep. If you use a fan at night, make sure that it’s thoroughly cleaned and not harboring any dust.
If your itchy eyes at night are accompanied by pain, excessive sensitivity to light, discharge, blurred vision, flashes of light, double vision, an inability to sleep, or other unexpected symptoms, make an appointment immediately with your eye doctor.
Even if none of these symptoms occur, you should contact your eye doctor if the itching sensation persists for more than a few days. At True Eye Experts, we have a team of experienced optometrists that are available 24/7 to answer any questions or concerns that you may have about your itchy eyes. Schedule an appointment with us today to see how we can help you with your itchy eyes at night.
Dr. Robert Prado attended Southern College of Optometry where he earned his Doctorate of Optometry degree. He has been honored for the past 30 years to help thousands of patients who have been impacted by eye disease or are looking to correct or enhance their vision. He has worked in various office settings throughout the years which have given him a unique perspective in managing and caring for your eyes. His passion for outreach has led him to participate in different mission trips, including living overseas for three and a half years to serve the people of Guam. In his spare time he enjoys traveling and discovering new and exciting places, spending summer days camping with his family, hiking, kayaking, and biking. He also enjoys growing tomatoes. He is currently the optometrist for True Eye Experts located in Apopka, Florida. He would love to provide you with an exceptional comprehensive eye exam today. Please contact our office via email at [email protected] or by phone at (407) 862-2020 to schedule your appointment today. He is looking forward to SEEing you soon!
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