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How to treat eye allergies

Published On: Nov 19 2012 12:15:06 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 04 2012 10:50:12 AM CST
Senior's eye

iStockPhoto / tbradford

By Barbara Floria, Pure Matters

Eye allergies affect more than seven in 10 people with allergies. Although not contagious, this type of eye problem can cause discomfort and aggravation to sufferers.

An eye allergy can be seasonal when caused by pollens at a certain time of year, or year-round when caused by pets, feathers, perfumes, or eye makeup.

Eye allergies are usually, but not always, associated with other allergic conditions, particularly hay fever and eczema, says Joseph A. Eviatar, M.D., FACS, an eye surgeon in New York City. "But you don't need to suffer with them. Medical and self-care treatments can provide relief."


Eye allergies usually affect both eyes. The main symptoms of an eye allergy (also called allergic conjunctivitis) include itchy eyes, increased tearing, red or pink eyes, and mild swelling of the eyelids.

"If the eye is sticky in the morning, it's probably a bacterial infection," says Dr. Eviatar. "If the eye burns, it's likely dry eye. If the eye itches, the problem is probably allergies, especially if the lower lid is more affected than the upper lid. Constant rubbing of the eyes often accompanies untreated allergies and can lead to more serious skin irritations."

Sometimes an eye infection can develop in addition to the eye allergy. This occurs when bacteria on your fingers or hands enter your eyes after scratching or rubbing them.


Home treatment often can provide relief from allergy-related discomfort. Try the following:

  • Avoid the outdoors in the mid-morning and early evening, when pollen counts are highest.
  • Use air conditioners instead of window fans, because fans can suck in pollen and mold from outdoors.
  • When outdoors, wear sunglasses to limit the amount of pollen that can reach your eyes.
  • To keep dust mites at a minimum, wash bedding, especially pillows, in hot water.
  • Use a damp mop when cleaning the floor and a damp rag when dusting.
  • Wash your hands after handling or petting an animal.
  • If you have a pet that you're allergic to, keep it out of your house, if possible, or at least, out of your bedroom.
  • Clean humid places in your house -- the bathroom, the kitchen, the basement -- regularly to cut down on mold.
  • Even if your eyes itch, don't rub them.
  • Wash off allergens. If you've been outside, use a wet washcloth to clean allergens off the eyelids and surrounding area. Artificial tears can help wash allergens from the eyes. Apply a cold washcloth to the itchy eyes. Wash your hair every night because it collects lots of pollen.
  • Use antihistamine eye drops or vasoconstrictor eye drops. If your eyes are still itchy or bloodshot after you rinse them, apply over-the-counter eye drops. Don't use the OTC eye drops for more than two to three days. Longer use can cause your eyes to become even more irritated.
  • Apply a cold compress to puffy eyes.
  • Try an oral antihistamine. If the previous measures aren't effective, take an oral antihistamine. Check with your doctor first, though, because some oral antihistamines can cause dry eyes and more irritation. Also, some of these medications have unpleasant side effects, such as sleepiness, dizziness, or excitability.

Get help

If the problem persists after two days of self-care, contact your eye doctor as soon as possible. The doctor may prescribe one of the following:

  • Antihistamine eye drops. The relief that these eye drops offer lasts only a few hours, however.
  • Mast cell stabilizers. These are eye drops used as a preventive measure and are taken before you are exposed to an allergen.
  • A combination of antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops.
  • Corticosteroid eye drops. Because of side effects, these should only be used short-term and under the care of an ophthalmologist.


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