5 Common Causes of Eye Irritation in Children

    5 Common Causes of Eye Irritation in Children

    Eye irritation in children can happen due to various reasons. Why do kids experience eye irritation and discomfort, and when should you seek medical help? Find out here.

    What is eye irritation?

    Eye irritation is not a specific disease. It’s a general term we use when we feel discomfort or see unexplained symptoms in our eyes or the surrounding area.

    If your child is complaining of a burning sensation in their eyes, or you observe redness in the sclera (white part of the eyes) and swelling in the lower or upper eyelid, it means that they have eye irritation.

    The other common symptoms associated with eye irritation are:

    • Itchy eyes
    • Teary or watery eyes
    • Eye redness or pain
    • Sensitivity to light
    • Blurry vision

    Please note that while the symptoms may look “generic,” the causes of eye irritation in children may vary.

    eye irritation in children

    What things can irritate your child’s eyes?

    Below are some of the common causes of eye irritation in kids:


    When an allergen (something that causes an allergic reaction) comes in contact with your child’s eyes, they may experience eye irritation or allergic conjunctivitis. Triggers for eye allergies usually include pollen, pet dander, and house dust.

    If your child experiences allergic conjunctivitis, he or she may complain of the following eye symptoms:

    • Itchiness, or burning and stinging sensation
    • Watery eyes
    • Pink or red eyes
    • Mild eye swelling

    Please note that eye allergies usually do not result in fever or eye discharge. In general, you can treat eye allergies at home by gently rinsing the eyes to remove the allergen. Your doctor may also give you oral anti-allergy medications or eye drops.

    Exposure to irritants

    Cases of eye irritation in children also occur due to exposure to irritants. For example, being exposed to smoke, dust, or chemicals may cause:

    • Red and watery eyes
    • Grainy feeling in the eyes

    In most cases, you can treat mild cases of irritant exposure at home by gently rinsing your eyes with warm water for a couple of minutes. If your symptoms don’t go away after rinsing, go to the doctor.

    Presence of a foreign object

    Another common reason why eye irritation in children happens is the presence of a foreign object in the eyes. We commonly refer to it as “puwing.

    When your child has a foreign object in their eyes, you may observe the following symptoms:

    • Increased tears or watery eyes
    • Eye pain
    • Itchy eyes
    • Redness

    Please note that most cases of puwing are harmless. When little particles such as dust land on our eyes, we tear up to wash them away. In case tears cannot remove them (stray eyelashes), we might need to rinse our eyes with warm water for a couple of minutes.

    Rules of Eye Safety: Tips to Remember and Follow


    Some foreign objects in the eyes can wound the cornea, the transparent film covering the eyes. This is called corneal abrasion; symptoms include:

    • A feeling that something is in the eyes
    • Light sensitivity
    • Increased tears
    • Red eyes
    • Swollen eyelids

    If you suspect corneal abrasion in your child, tell them not to rub or scratch their eyes, and don’t attempt to remove the object, especially with materials like tweezers or a cotton swab. The best thing to do is to bring your child to the doctor.

    Eye strain and dry eyes

    Intense use of the eyes for long periods, such as when your child uses gadgets, may lead to irritation.

    Moreover, when children are too focused on the screen, they tend to blink less often. This can result in eye dryness, which makes it more vulnerable to irritation and discomfort.


    And of course, we cannot talk about the common causes of eye irritation in children without mentioning infections. If your kid has an eye infection, he or she may exhibit:

    • Eye redness
    • Swelling around the eyes
    • Urge to scratch or rub the eyes
    • Eye discharge (pus or mucus)
    • Crusting in the eyelids or eyelashes

    The treatment depends on the cause of infection (fungal, viral, and bacterial); that’s why seeking medical help is a must. Viral infection may clear within two weeks, but fungal and bacterial infections require antifungal and antibiotic medications, respectively.

    When to seek medical help

    If your child experiences eye irritation that doesn’t get better with home remedies, go to the doctor. Severe eye irritation, such as when your child complains of prolonged burning sensation in their eyes, also needs medical attention.

    Seek medical help, too, if they have eye discomfort and redness along with:

    • Severe eye pain
    • Direct eye injury
    • Swelling in the eye or the area surrounding it
    • Eye discharge (pus or mucus)
    • Vision problems (double vision, vision loss, blurry vision)

    Learn more about Child Eyecare here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated May 19, 2021
    Medically reviewed by Victor Paulino, MD, DPBO