Your eyes can be a window onto your health, and sore, itchy, irritated or red eyes can be a warning that you are allergic to something, or that you need to take better care of yourself, or that you need to avoid certain things. Irritated or sensitive eyes can also be a sign that there’s an underlying problem – a nutritional deficiency or perhaps a minor infection for example. Most of the time, it’s actually nothing to worry about, and the problem will resolve itself quite quickly, but if your eyes are bothering you some of the following might help you pinpoint the problem and find out how to rectify it.
If you have any pain or your eyes are unusually watery or bloodshot, you should always seek medical attention - the following is only a list of possible minor irritations that you might be able get some relief from by changing your diet or lifestyle, or with the help of a pharmacist and OTC remedies.
Even if you just have a nightcap in the evening, regularly drinking alcohol can rob your body of nutrients and cause your sleep to be unrefreshing and poor quality. As well as giving you bloodshot eyes from a lack of good quality sleep, it can also exacerbate rosacea, a condition that can cause red watering eyes and broken veins on your cheeks and nose. Not all cases of rosacea are caused by alcohol, and in fact the underlying cause is a common and fairly benign bacterial infection, which could be worsened by alcohol because regular drinking suppresses the immune system and makes you susceptible to infections. Even if you only have a small glass of wine before bed, try stopping for a few days to see if the problem gets better.
Lack of Sleep
This might be from a one-off party the night before, or from staying up all night working to meet that deadline, in which case your red eyes will return to normal when you’re rested. On the other hand it could be a longer term issue that you need to resolve. Chronic lack of sleep can lower resistance to infection, cause you to make mistakes more frequently, and it can also bring on depression, which can make your sleep quality even worse. Try some popular tips on sleeping well, or if your insomnia or broken sleep is affecting your life, ask your doctor if you can be referred to a sleep specialist who might be able to help pinpoint and resolve the underlying cause of your sleeplessness.
If you aren’t getting the right nutrients from your diet, your body won’t be able to repair itself, and minor problems like irritated and sore eyes can get worse. A good diet can be a simple one and quite inexpensive. Get plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, and smaller amounts of meat and fish, or protein-rich vegetarian alternatives like tofu, beans and nuts. If you think you might have a more serious deficiency – low iron and low vitamin B is common in women, for instance - see your doctor for a blood test.
If you’ve been ‘off your food’ for a while, you might experience a lot of different symptoms, and if you are under a lot of stress you might not even notice or pay much attention to the most obvious one - weight loss - for quite some time. But although other symptoms might be rather vague, constantly tired, burning, stinging or sensitive eyes are difficult to ignore and can be a strong indication of chronic nutritional deficiency. Rapid weight loss can be caused by illness as well as anxiety and trauma, and you might benefit from professional advice. If you think it is caused by mental trauma – whether this is sudden or prolonged grief, or overwhelming peer-pressure - and you find it hard to talk to friends and family, talking to a councellor can help, but find one that is right for you. Some councellors specialise in a practical, no-nonsense approach, but if you have been through a difficult and traumatic time you might need a more sympathetic ear. If there is no immediately obvious traumatic cause in your life for loss of appetite and/or weight, ask your doctor to test for an underlying infection or other cause.
Sudden stress from vomiting, coughing or sneezing
These can cause transient, temporary red and watering eyes, but they are rarely long-term problems, and they usually resolve themselves in just a few minutes or hours, but if an attack of vomiting, coughing or even sneezing doesn’t go away, or else it recurs very often, see your doctor to check that it’s not due to allergies or infection.
If you are recovering from a long or serious illness, your reserve of energy, nutrients and motivation can be at an all-time low. This can cause a lot of other, peripheral problems like reddened eyes, skin problems, dry or oily hair, and aches and pains that can take time to improve and can make you wonder if you’re getting better at all. Consult a reputable nutritionist (your doctor should be able to recommend one to you) so that you don’t regain any lost weight too rapidly or by eating lots of unhealthy things, which could make matters worse. Problems from short illnesses like coughs and colds often resolve themselves with some rest and a good diet, but with long or chronic illnesses you may need to pamper yourself with lots of foods that are tempting, comforting and good for you. Don’t underestimate the age-old remedy of chicken soup for recuperating from illness: Nebraska University found that chicken soup really does help slow down the symptoms of the common cold, and if it works on that pesky common illness, it might help you to recover from others.
Prescription and over-the-counter medicines
If you get red or itchy eyes after taking any medication, read the leaflet that accompanies the medicine and check with your doctor or pharmacist whether the reaction is serious. Itching, lumps, bumps or swelling – whether around your eyes or anywhere else – can be the sign of an allergy and can be serious.
Smoking or being in a smoky environment can cause your eyes to go red and start watering. If you are particularly sensitive it can last for a few days or set off an asthma attack, and the only way to solve the problem is to stop smoking if you do smoke, and to avoid smoke and smokers.
If you work in a place that uses chemicals like bleach or other irritants, the fumes can get into your eyes and cause short- and long-term problems like redness, styes, itching, sensitivity, or worse. Wearing protective eye goggles can help, and bathing your eyes in eye solutions that you can get from a pharmacy or your doctor can lessen irritation. Check the health and safety regulations of your company, because both you and your employer can be held responsible for reporting a problem or fixing it.
If you live in an old house, or in a building that’s prone to damp, dust or mould in the air might be affecting your eyes, and eventually it might cause breathing problems too. Old houses might simply need a good spring clean more often to keep the dust down, but if damp is your problem, you might need to get specialists in to fix things.
Everyday Environmental Irritants
Chlorine in swimming pools
Some swimming pools use less chlorine, better water filters, and ask that people shower and wear bathing caps before entering the pool, so ask around at different places if you can’t bear to give up swimming but can’t stand a lot of chlorine.
Home cleaning products
Milder cleaning products are usually environmentally friendly ones too, so you’ll be saving the planet at the same time as reducing the irritants you come into contact with.
If you have allergies to pets, dust mites, or even mould spores, the same tablets that are used by hayfever sufferers can also help you, and they can be bought online or from your local pharmacy over the counter.
Whilst you’ll know if you’ve suffered a big injury to your eyes and should seek medical attention, smaller injuries can occur too and might not be so obvious. If you have bloodshot eyes, pain in your eyes, or your eyes are watering profusely for any length of time, you might have a small injury that you didn’t notice at the time. Try not to itch your eyes in case there’s a tiny foreign object in there, and seek medical help. If you know that you just got some dust in your eyes, wash it out using a special sterile eye solution and an eyebath that you can get from the nearest pharmacy.
Mascara is the biggest cosmetics culprit for making your eyes red, itchy and watery, but any make up or moisturiser that comes near your eyes can cause irritation. Try to put as little eye make up on as possible to see if that helps, or get hypoallergenic products from a good brand. If all else fails, you might have to make a choice between looking as though you just got some bad news all the time, or going without make up at all.
Itching or touching your Eyes
If you touch your hands and fingers to your face out of nerves or habit, and haven't just washed them beforehand, you could be transferring a little grime and dust to your eyes, which could be making your eyes red and itchy. If it’s a habit you can’t seem to break, wash your hands more frequently or carry little moist towelettes to wipe your hands clean every so often.
Hayfever can be mild or it can devastate your summer. Allergy tablets containing cetirizine hydrochloride solve the problem for many people, but if they don’t work for you, there are a few home-remedies you can try. Eating a spoonful of honey from local bees every day might help. The theory is that the honey is made from the same pollen that is causing your allergic reaction, and this helps over time to build up your immunity to it. Bathing your eyes in clean warm water often throughout the day washes out the pollen, and you can get soothing eyewash from your pharmacy. Simply staying indoors and replacing the pollen filter on your car is a way of reducing the problem, and some people find that eating more spicy food regularly can help, although others have found the opposite to be true. Eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables may calm your hayfever down, since the vitamin C and other antioxidants in these foods can help your immune system to regulate better, so that it doesn’t react as violently to allergenics like pollen. If you also get breathing problems when you get red and itchy eyes as part of your yearly hayfever trial, you may need to see your doctor, as hayfever asthma can be quite serious.
Redberry Sky (author) on November 29, 2013:
Emily, rinse your eyes with clean cold water and then contact a medical professional as soon as you possibly can - your doctor or the emergency room, or an ophthalmologist or optician so they can check if you have an infection or allergy or other problem. As for trying to not get sick, the best thing you can do is to eat fruit and veg, oily fish, lean meat, get a couple of miles walking done every day, and try not to get stressed. Doctors avoid catching their patients' illnesses by washing their hands often, but as long as you aren't coming into contact with serious infections every day, a good diet and some exercise (and low alcohol intake) will make sure your immune system is healthy enough to clear minor infections like colds. If you're worried, have a chat with your doctor and get his (or her) advice about anything specific that's bothering you.
Emily on November 29, 2013:
Ya I have red eyes and they kill and I just want to cry . So how can I help them fast . And how do you stop getting sick ?
Baker on November 07, 2013:
I found it was my mascara.... I use Clinique and as soon as I switched my eyes cleared right up.
iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on October 31, 2013:
Very useful information. I work at nightshifts, therefore I sacrifice my normal sleeping hours, and sometimes I feel the "hot" feeling in my eyes. Thanks for sharing.
Superhealthtips on October 15, 2013:
The best thing to get rid of it can be exercise. I have readed an article written on primetips about eye relaxation exercise
Hannah8812 on November 27, 2012:
This is a great article, very true. I’ve suffered from itchy eyes for a long time due to stress and other factors. I was recommended by a friend of mine to try Optique eye drops from Blue Sky Vitamins. After my initial scepticism I decided to give it a go and I am so glad I did. I no longer suffer from the bad itchy sensation and can finally get my life on track again. I have also lowered my stress levels which have also helped with my condition.
Dr Kulsum Mehmood from Nagpur, India on October 09, 2012:
Very good info. in this hub. Very educative and written simply to understand by people by enlarge.
Redberry Sky (author) on July 04, 2012:
Thanks cclitgirl :)
Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on June 27, 2012:
I try not to rub my eyes - I know that makes things worse. I agree that it's important to eat eye-healthy foods and keep the eyes lubricated and moist. Thanks for sharing this.
Redberry Sky (author) on June 18, 2012:
Good point, jpcmc - fingers carry all *kinds* of germs - and of course mums have the best advice ever :)
JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on June 17, 2012:
I take the advise of my mom - stop rubbing your eyes! Dirty hands can infect an already irritated eye.