Why are My Eyes Red, Burning and Itchy?

Dr. Jonathan Woolfson
Why are My Eyes Red, Burning and Itchy?

Updated July 2021

Red, burning, irritated eyes..we’ve all had them. You scratch and rub them constantly, but in reality, it just makes the problem worse. What causes these issues? Why are My Eyes Red, Burning and Itchy? Why is it a nagging problem for millions of people?

At Woolfson Eye Institute, we see patients each and every day who are suffering from red, burning, itchy eyes. So, we wrote this article to shed light on a few factors that lead to this problem. We will also provide possible solutions to help alleviate your symptoms.

What are the possible causes?

If your eyes are red or irritated, it’s most likely due to one of the following:

Keep reading to learn more about how each of these conditions could be affecting your eyes.

What is dry eye syndrome?

Dry Eye Infographic

Dry eye syndrome is the most common reason for red or burning eyes. In fact, many people are genetically predisposed to having dry eyes, which typically worsens over time.

Tears are vital to the overall health of your eyes, as they wash out debris and act as a natural lubricant for the eyes. When the glands near the eye don’t produce enough tears, it can lead to a burning, itchy sensation accompanied by the feeling that debris is in your eye.

In addition to this problem, another gland in the eye responsible for oil output may malfunction, resulting in less oil and the evaporation of tears— a condition known as evaporative dry eye.

A quick word on medications

Dry eyes are a side effect of many common prescription and over-the-counter medications. Blood pressure medications, antidepressants, antihistamines, and other common medications can reduce natural tear production, resulting in dry eyes.

Obviously, we are not advocating that you stop taking any medications without consulting with your physician, but it is important to be aware of and understand that, if you are taking any of these medicines, they could be contributing to your dry eye issues.

What about infections or more serious health issues?

While most dry eye cases are simply a result of what we’ve discussed above, there are cases where dry eyes are the result of either a chronic eye infection or some type of autoimmune disorder.

If you think you may have an eye infection, we encourage you to contact your local eye doctor and schedule an appointment immediately. If you have an underlying health issue, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to consult with your primary physician on the management of these medical issues.

What about eye drops for redness?

Dry Eye Infographic

If your eyes are red or irritated, eye drops can oftentimes be a life saver. However, you must be very careful as to what type of eye drop you choose.

For instance, many of our patients ask us about using Visine, which claims to “get the red out.” However, the best drop for redness is a generic lubricating drop, not a product like Visine, which temporarily shrinks the blood vessels in the eye.

The reason we don’t recommend Visine or vasoconstrictor eye drops in most cases is, because while they can provide temporary relief, in many situations the issue will simply return.

These types of eye drops work by shrinking blood vessels in the short term, but over time, they can actually cause the blood vessels in your eyes to expand beyond their normal size. As you can imagine, this can become a viscous cycle where individuals actually become addicted to these types of drops.

So what now?

If you’re experiencing red or itchy eyes, it’s most likely due to dryness. Many of our patients experience dry eyes after LASIK surgery, but this typically goes away in the days and weeks following surgery.

If you feel that your dry eyes may be due to an underlying medical issue, such as an infection or autoimmune disorder, it’s important for you to contact your eye care provider or physician immediately.

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