Eye Irritation: When to See a Doctor | Magruder Eye Institute

Eye Irritation: When to See a Doctor

Is your eye irritation something more serious? Read on to learn when to see a doctor for eye irritation.

The human eye is the second most complex organ in the body. If you get something in your eye, it can ruin your whole day. The scratching, burning feeling may distract you from everyday tasks.

Eye irritation can occur due to allergies, foreign particles, or even chemical irritants.

The eyes heal quickly, and most irritations will subside sooner than you think. To you, it may feel like a million years though.

However, there are some instances in which you should see a doctor.

Are you worried that your irritated eye is something more serious? Read on to find out the common causes of irritated eyes and when to see a doctor.

Your Eyes Turn Goopy

No one wants to look in the mirror and see themselves ready to walk on the set of a horror movie. This does happen.

It’s normal to have some amount of a mucus known as rheum when you wake up. This helps your eyes wash away any dirt or foreign particles.

Rheum is released in small quantities throughout the day. It’s usually spread out when we blink, so it doesn’t build up. When we sleep, the mucus has time to build up and create what we call “eye boogers.”

This is a normal phenomenon in healthy eyes. When does it become unhealthy and indicate other eye health problems?

Watch for changes in your eye’s daily discharge. Healthy rheum ranges in color from clear to pale yellow.

You should visit a doctor right away if the discharge turns green or dark yellow or becomes very thick. These symptoms along with redness or pain could be a sign of infection.

Common causes of abnormal eye discharge include the following:

Conjunctivitis (Commonly Known as Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. It can be caused by a number of factors. These could be a virus, bacterium, chemical irritants, or fungi.

These infections are rarely serious but may require a visit to the doctor. The doctor can help you figure out the cause and whether or not it needs treatment.

If the infection is bacterial, they may prescribe an antibiotic. Otherwise, they may give you eyedrops to help reduce the redness and irritation.

These infections can even be passed from mother to child during birth, causing your child to be born with pink eye.

If you think you have a case of pink eye, you should visit an eye specialist to prevent the spread and further eye problems.

A Stye or Chalazion

Styes are pimples or abscesses that form on your eyelids. This happens when bacteria block an oil duct. Other germs or dead skin cells can also cause these annoying abscesses.

This causes inflammation. They usually start out as small pimples near your eyelashes. Over the course of a few days, they can turn into painful red bumps.

They are easily treated with a warm compress and usually go away on their own.

If the irritation persists, sometimes scar tissue will form around the bump. The pain will go away, but the bump will persist. This is known as a chalazion.

A Blocked Tear Duct

Tears play an important role in cleaning and moistening your eyes. Sometimes, the tear ducts become blocked.

This blockage can occur for a number of reasons, including narrowing of the tear ducts with age, an infection, or polyps.

A blocked tear duct can cause painful, thick eye mucus. You should see a doctor if you’re concerned you have a blocked tear duct.

They are easily treated with a number of simple methods and procedures.

Light Sensitivity

If your eyes become sensitive to light, this could point to more serious eye health issues.

For example, you may be suffering from dry eye. Your tear duct system keeps your eyes clean and lubricated.

However, sometimes the tear duct system can fail. If this is the case, you’ll notice sensitivity to light among other symptoms.

Other symptoms of dry eye include a gritty feeling, blurred vision, and redness.

To treat dry eye, your eye doctor may provide you with artificial tears or ointments. These are common and effective.

Your eye doctor may decide to close the punctum, which drains tears from your eyes. Using a plug designed to dissolve over time, they will close the punctum. If these work, your doctor may decide to use permanent plugs.

Other treatments include cautery, which uses heat to permanently burn the punctum shut.

Digital eye strain is another common cause of light sensitivity. In the 21st century, many of us spend a lot of time staring at a screen.

The easiest way to treat this is, of course, spending less time on your devices. If that’s not an option, you can take steps to reduce the amount of strain you put on your eyes.

For example, you can change the brightness and contrast settings on your computer or phone screen. You can also use anti-glare screen covers to mitigate excessive glare.

Blink often.

Still, if you’re experiencing light sensitivity, it’s best to consult with a professional. They may be able to identify other problems you may have with your eyes.

A Feeling of Something Being Stuck in Your Eye

This is a phenomenon known as a foreign body sensation. Sometimes, there isn’t anything in your eye.

However, sometimes, there may actually be a foreign body lodged in your eye. You may or may not have noticed something ever enter your eye.

These foreign bodies can cause irritation. You may notice it when you blink, meaning you have something stuck in your cornea.

The foreign body can also be in your eyelid. If this is the case, the object could scratch your cornea and cause further irritation and pain.

Sometimes the object can be removed safely. You can try flushing your eyes using a showerhead or glass of water.

If you’re concerned about removing it safely, you should see a professional. It’s best to do this as soon as possible.

Allowing the object to remain in your eye for too long could cause serious long-term effects. For example, you could risk infection or even vision loss.

If it’s a serious emergency, restrict your eye movement immediately and seek medical attention. You can use a bandage, gauze, or a paper cup.

While Wearing Contact Lenses

Irritation from contact lenses happens to a great number of contact wearers. Often, irritation is mild but can sometimes be serious and lead to vision damage.

These more serious cases may require medical attention.

If you wear contact lenses, look out for redness, swelling, or soreness. You may also experience dryness, blurred vision, or foreign body sensation.

If this sounds like you, you should visit your eye care professional immediately. Often, these cases are easily treated.

Here are some of the common causes of contact lens irritation:

Wearing the Contact Lenses Too Long

Different contact lenses are designed to be worn for different lengths of times. Some can be worn for a few hours. Some can be worn overnight.

Speak with your eye care professional about the types of lenses you wear and how long you can wear them. Wearing your lenses too long can lead to irritation or even infections.

Always replace your contact lenses when recommended.

Improper Care

Be sure to take care of your lenses as per manufacturer recommendation. Some softer lenses are particularly delicate.

Clean your lenses properly, let them dry, and wash your hands before putting them in your eyes. Failing to do so could lead to discomfort, irritation, or bacterial infections.

Never allow your lenses to come into contact with chemicals such as hairspray, perfume, or makeup. These can cause great discomfort for you and your eyes.

The Takeaway

If you wear contact lenses, you need to care for them. Cleaning them is an essential part of making sure they work for you.

If you experience discomfort despite your flawless contact care routine, talk to your eye care professional. They may recommend you use a different brand, type, or prescription.

Blurred Vision Plus Eye Irritation

This should always be a sign that you should visit your eye care professional. This is especially true if redness and irritation accompany your blurred vision.

This could be a sign of more serious eye health problems. Some common eye health problems that cause blurred vision include the following:

Fuch’s Corneal Dystrophy

Fuch’s corneal dystrophy is a condition that affects more women than men. It’s a slow deterioration of cells in the corneal endothelium.

Many people with this condition may not notice any major changes in their vision until they reach their 50s or 60s.

The condition causes endothelial cells to die. This allows fluid to build up in the cornea and is accompanied by swelling.

As a result, the cornea thickens and obstructs vision. Symptoms include blurred vision, painful bumps on the cornea, and a cloudy or hazy cornea.

You will need to visit an eye care professional to treat this condition. They may give you a variety of ointments, drops, or contact lenses.

Some more serious conditions may require a corneal transplant.


Keratitis causes inflammation of the cornea. Keratitis can sometimes accompany an infection but not in all cases.

Minor eye injuries can sometimes cause this condition. It can also occur if you wear your contact lenses too long or get something in your eye.

Other forms of keratitis, which may be infectious, may be the result of an infection. Infectious agents include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

If you experience redness or irritation accompanied by blurred vision, see an eye care professional immediately. It’s important to get a diagnosis and treatment straight away.

Neglecting to care for a case of keratosis can lead to long-term eye problems. One of these complications is permanent blindness.

Lattice Dystrophy

Lattice dystrophy can occur at any point in a person’s life but primarily affects children between the ages of two and seven.

This condition is characterized by a lattice structure of deposits in the stroma layer of the cornea. Over time, this lattice becomes more opaque and can impair vision.

In some cases, the lattice structure impacts the epithelial tissue. This alters the normal curvature of the cornea and causes vision problems.

Some of these cases may leave the nerve endings in the eyes exposed. This is painful.

Your eye care professional will likely prescribe eye drops and ointments to ease the pain. You should keep the eye covered with an eye patch to reduce eye movement.

In the long term, lattice dystrophy can cause scarring in the epithelial layer of the cornea. This can negatively impact vision.

Your eye care professional may recommend a corneal transplant. However, it is possible that the condition will continue despite the newly transplanted cornea.

Other Eye Health Problems

These are only some examples of the possible conditions that come with a blurred vision. Others include Mad-Dot-Fingerprint Dystrophy and Keratoconus.

If you experience eye irritation accompanied by blurred vision, seek medical attention. These conditions can lead to permanent vision loss among other complications.

Even if it’s a simple problem, such as a need for a new prescription, you will be better off with the peace of mind. If the condition is more serious, your eye care professional can guide you to the correct treatment.

When in Doubt, Look for Help

Some humans can be quite stubborn and avoid medical treatment. However, our quality of life is intertwined with our ability to see.

It’s important to look after your eyes, even if your vision doesn’t require correction. If you notice any of the above problems with your eyes, you should visit an eye care professional immediately.

Eye irritation can sometimes point to more serious problems that need treatment. If you are having problems with your eyes, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our professionals.