Irritation, in biology and physiology, is a state of inflammation or painful reaction to allergy or cell-lining damage. A stimulus or agent which induces the state of irritation is an irritant. Irritants are typically thought of as chemical agents (for example phenol and capsaicin) but mechanical, thermal (heat), and radiative stimuli (for example ultraviolet light or ionising radiations) can also be irritants. Irritation also has non-clinical usages referring to bothersome physical or psychological pain or discomfort.
Irritation can also be induced by some allergic response due to exposure of some allergens for example contact dermatitis, irritation of mucosal membranes and pruritus. Mucosal membrane is the most common site of irritation because it contains secretory glands that release mucous which attracts the allergens due to its sticky nature.
Chronic irritation is a medical term signifying that afflictive health conditions have been present for a while. There are many disorders that can cause chronic irritation, the majority involve the skin, vagina, eyes and lungs.
As an indication, the market for eye strain and eye care products in the UK in 1986 was £9 million.