Eye Allergies: Symptoms, Treatments, Relief

Written By: Susannah Lockett

Eye allergies occur as part of the general seasonal allergy symptoms causing misery for so many. In addition to runny nose, sneezing, and congestion, symptoms usually include the eyes, with uncomfortable itching, redness, watering, and swelling of the eyelids. Often times these symptoms can make it seem like you have blurry vision

While it’s instinctive to want to rub your itching eyes, it’s not recommended.  Rubbing your eyes can make things even worse by damaging your eyes and even making them itch more. If you rub them too much you can cause eye floaters and flashes to occur.  You can also scratch your cornea if there is a foreign object such as an eyelash or piece of dirt.

You may not know that eye allergies can also lead to a type of conjunctivitis commonly known as pink eye. The conjunctiva is a thin membrane covering the white parts of the eye and lining the inner eyelids. These areas become red and inflamed during an attack of pink eye, hence the name.

Pink eye can have different causes, though, such as bacteria, viruses, and allergens. When caused by allergens, the condition is not contagious. However, other forms of pink eye caused by microbes can be very contagious indeed. It’s just one reason not to share eye makeup, and eye drops with others.

Here is how you can get some relief from this common, benign, but highly annoying condition.

Causes of Eye Allergies

Eye allergies are caused by the same issues that all types of allergies, including food, insect, and drug ones, are caused by. However, these types of allergies don’t typically involve the eyes as expressly.

In people with any allergy, the body reacts abnormally to ordinarily harmless substances. Common causes of eye allergy symptoms include pollen, mold, dust, and pet dander. Dander is the tiny flakes that fall off an animal’s skin.

It’s these skin flakes causing the problem, not the animal’s fur. Dander contains harmless proteins that are generally ignored by the immune system, but in people with allergies, a violent reaction can occur.

Other possible causes include certain eye cosmetics and the preservatives commonly present in certain eye drops, including those used to treat dry eye. These are the easiest to treat because you can simply avoid cosmetics or drops you’re allergic to. Many types of eye drops and contact lens care items are available in single-use forms free of any preservatives.

Relief of Eye Allergies

There are some things you can do to limit your exposure to allergens. Try wearing wraparound sunglasses to physically shield your eyes, and driving with windows closed. Be aware of local pollen counts. When these are high, stay indoors with the air conditioning running as much as possible.

Use an air conditioner and furnace filters designed to trap allergens and replace them as recommended. You may also purchase other indoor air-cleaning devices intended to keep the indoor air as free from allergens and pollutants as possible.

Contact Lenses and Allergies

Contacts can worsen eye allergy symptoms because they can act as a trap for airborne allergens, holding them in your eyes. A simple solution is to switch to eyeglasses when symptoms flare up.

You can also try switching your contact lenses to the daily wear type. These are thrown away after a single use and do not accumulate allergens and other debris on them. If daily contacts don’t improve your symptoms, you may need to wear only eyeglasses during allergy season.

Eyeglasses with photochromic lenses are best. These are the kind that are clear indoors but turn dark automatically outdoors. These help guard your eyes against allergens and also decrease light sensitivity.

Try Eye Drops

There is a wide range of nonprescription eye drops and preparations you can try to ease your eye allergy symptoms. These products typically relieve eye redness, itching, and watering. You can ask your eye doctor to recommend a brand for you. If this fails, you may need to move on to the next level of treatment.

Prescription Medications

If other methods fail, your eye doctor may decide that prescription eye drops or oral medications may be appropriate for you. These may include:


Although not all of these drugs are prescription-only, the more powerful ones are. Antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine, a chemical released by the body during an allergic response.

It’s the histamine causing the itchiness, redness, and watering of the eyes. This occurs because histamine causes the blood vessels to swell and makes the walls of the vessels highly permeable.

Antihistamines, as the name suggests, work by blocking the cell sites where histamine must attach.



These shrink swollen blood vessels in the eye, causing red eyes and reducing the swelling in the nasal passages, easing breathing. Common decongestants include phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine.

Combination products containing both antihistamines and decongestants are also available.


NSAID stands for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Since these combat inflammation, eye drops containing them may help with seasonal conjunctivitis, commonly known as hay fever.

Mast Cell Stabilizers

Mast cells are located throughout the body, including in the conjunctiva and the eyelids. They help to regulate the immune system. Mast cell stabilizers work by preventing the release of histamine from the mast cells, which in turn prevents the symptoms caused by it.

These drugs can take several weeks to produce their full effect and are not usually adequate for the short-term relief of acute allergic eye symptoms.


Steroid eye drops work by calming the immune system and its overactive allergic response. These drugs are typically highly effective but may be unsafe to use in the long term due to possible side effects like glaucoma and cataracts. However, your eye doctor may prescribe these for short-term relief of acute symptoms.

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy uses tiny amounts of your allergen injected into your skin in increasing amounts over time. The idea is to desensitize your body to your allergen. This works for many people. Ask your eye doctor if it’s right for you.

Contact Lenses and Eye Allergies

It’s entirely possible to become allergic to anything, even something you’ve used many times, with no problems. This issue may occur when someone switches from regular hydrogel lenses to silicone hydrogel lenses. Eye care professionals often prefer silicone hydrogels because they allow about five times more oxygen to reach the eye’s surface.

Some people experience allergic-type symptoms when wearing silicone hydrogels after using regular hydrogels. However, studies have shown that the symptoms are not those of a true allergy but rather a tendency for more accumulation of debris on the surface of the silicone hydrogel lens.

The problem can often be successfully eliminated by using silicone hydrogel lenses in the daily disposable form.

Find an Eye Doctor Near You

Our top-rated eye doctors can help you with eye allergies, regular eye exams, contact lenses, eyeglasses, diagnosis of eye problems, and much more. We invite you to browse our site and find the right eye doctor for you in your local area.

Our professional staff will be happy to assist you with any questions or to set an appointment with one of our eye care professionals.

Published on: Sep 21, 2021
Last Updated: July 08, 2022
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