Allergies involving the eyes are very common in the spring, especially in rainy parts of the country.
The usual suspects — pollen, dust mites, pet dander, feathers, and other indoor or outdoor allergens — can set off eye allergy symptoms. To treat them, find out what triggers them and stay ahead of the symptoms. Eye drops and other medications can bring relief.
Just like any other allergic reaction, they are caused by a misfiring of the immune system, the body’s natural defense mechanism. When you have allergies, your body reacts to things that aren’t really harmful, like pollen, dust mites, mold, or pet dander. It releases histamine, a chemical that causes swelling and inflammation. The blood vessels in your eyesswell and your eyes get red, teary, and itchy.
You can be allergic to:
• Pollen from grasses, weeds, and trees. These are the most common kinds of eye allergies and are called seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.
• Dust, pet dander, and other indoor allergens. These eye allergies last year-round and are called chronic conjunctivitis.
• Makeup, perfume, or other chemicals can trigger eye allergies called contact conjunctivitis.
• An allergy to contact lenses, called giant papillary conjunctivitis, makes eyes sensitive, mucusy and red.
Symptoms to Watch For:
You may start to have symptoms as soon as the eyes come in contact with the allergen, or you may not have symptoms for two to four days.
Symptoms of eye allergies include:
• Red, irritated eyes
• Tearing or runny eyes
• Swollen eyelids
• Soreness, burning, or pain
• Sensitivity to light
Usually you’ll also have other allergy symptoms, such as a stuffy, runny nose and sneezing.
Treating Eye Allergies:
Some of the same medicines you use for nasal allergies work for eye allergies. For quick relief, over-the-counter eye drops and pills can help.
Antihistamine Pills and Eye Drops:
Antihistamine pills and liquids work by blocking histamine to relieve watery, itchy eyes. They include cetirizine (Zyrtec), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), fexofenadine (Allegra), or loratadine (Alavert, Claritin), among others. Some may cause drowsiness. Antihistamine eye drops work well for itchy, watery eyes. Prescription kinds include Pazeo, Pataday, Patanol, Bepreve, etc.
They are often combined with other kinds of drops, including some that shrink swollen blood vessels in your eye. You shouldn’t use these kinds of drops, called decongestant eye drops, for more than a few days at a time. Don’t use them at all if you have glaucoma.
Over-the-counter antihistamines include Zaditor and Alaway.
Other Kinds of Eye Drops
Some eye drops work only when you take them before your symptoms hit. They take longer to work than antihistamine eye drops, but the effects last longer. Sometimes they are combined with antihistamines. These eye drops need a prescription:
Steroid eye drops like loteprednol (Alrex and Lotemax) treat severe, long-lasting eye allergies. They are usually used only for a short time because they can cause serious side effects.
If you’re still having symptoms, your doctor may suggest allergy shots. With allergy shots, your body is exposed to increasing amounts of an allergen over time and gradually gets used to it. Depending on the cause of your allergies, oral tablets or drops that work much like allergy shots could be used instead.