Eye Allergies

If your eyes itch, are red, tearing or burning, pay attention to what they may be telling you. You may have eye allergies, or allergic conjunctivitis, a condition that affects millions of Americans. It is a condition that can occur alone, but often accompanies nasal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, sniffling and a stuffy nose. And, while most people treat nasal allergy symptoms, they often ignore their itchy, red, watery eyes. Here you will find answers to common questions and information on eye allergy treatment.

Eye allergy triggers

Allergens that may be present indoors or outdoors can cause eye allergies. The most common outdoor airborne allergens are grass, tree and weed pollens. People who are sensitive to these allergens suffer from seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, the most common type of eye allergy.

Pet hair or dander, dust mites and molds are the most common indoor allergens. These indoor allergens can trigger symptoms for some people throughout the year, resulting in perennial allergic conjunctivitis.

Itchy, watery, red eyes with allergies

Cigarette smoke, perfume and diesel exhaust may inflame your eyes. They can act as irritants that cause non-allergic symptoms, or they can make your allergic response worse.

Eye allergy causes

Just like hay fever and skin rashes, eye allergies develop when the body's immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something that is ordinarily harmless. An allergic reaction can occur whenever that "something" - called an allergen - comes into contact with your eyes. The allergen causes certain cells in the eye (called mast cells) to release histamine and other substances or chemicals that cause blood vessels in the eyes to swell, and the eyes to become itchy, red and watery.

Can eye allergies harm my eyesight?

Eye allergies, specifically allergic conjunctivitis, can be extremely annoying and uncomfortable, and they may disrupt your day-to-day activities, but they usually do not harm your eyes. However, there are rare conditions that are associated with atopic dermatitis (eczema) and other diseases can cause inflammation that may affect the eyesight. Chronic forms of eye allergy may also be caused by application of eye drops and creams, or even cosmetics.

Eye Allergy Treatment

Because many of the allergens that trigger eye allergies are airborne, avoidance is not always possible. You should discuss your eye allergy symptoms with an allergy specialist or your personal physician to determine which of several treatment options is right for you. The remainder of this article will review kinds of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription eye drops and oral medications that are available for the treatment of eye allergies.

Are the OTC and prescription eye drops and medications safe for children? There are eye drops and oral medications available to treat eye allergies in children. Artificial tears are extremely safe and can be used at any age. Some eye drops, such as antihistamines and antihistamines/mast cell stabilizers, can be used in children who are 3 and older. Any treatment should be discussed with your child's physician.

Do allergy shots treat eye allergies?

If avoidance, oral medication and eye drops do not control your symptoms, allergy shots or immunotherapy is an option for relieving eye allergies. Tiny amounts of the allergen are injected with gradually increasing doses over time. The shots can actually keep your body from reacting to the allergens. The treatment takes several months to achieve maximum results and and you may still be required to use medicine.

Medications for treating eye allergies

Over-the-counter eye drops and oral medications are commonly used for short-term relief of some eye allergy symptoms. However, they may not relieve all symptoms, and prolonged use of some OTC eye drops may actually cause your condition to become worse.

Prescription eye drops and oral medications also are used to treat eye allergies.

Prescription eye drops provide both short- and long-term targeted relief of eye allergy symptoms, and they can be used to manage eye allergy symptoms in conjunction with an oral antihistamine that might be taken to manage nasal allergy symptoms.

How We Can Help

Dr. Judge may begin by taking a detailed history, looking for clues in your lifestyle that will help pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. You'll be asked about your work and home environments, your eating habits, your family's medical history, the frequency and severity of your symptoms, and miscellaneous matters, such as if you have pets. Then, you may require some tests. Skin testing is the easiest, most sensitive and generally least expensive way of making the diagnosis. Another advantage is that results are available immediately. In rare cases, it also may be necessary to do a special IgE allergy blood test for specific allergens.

American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology