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One common problem associated with allergies is eye irritation. (Learn More)
Allergies are caused by your body’s immune system interpreting a common substance, like pollen, as a threat. This can lead to a reaction that causes irritation, or worse, depending on the severity of the allergy.
Common triggers of eye allergies include pollen, mold, pet dander, and dust mites. Many people experience seasonal allergies, usually related to pollen. They experience mild or even no allergies symptoms most of the year, but they have a serious reaction as pollen becomes more abundant in the air.
If you experience allergy symptoms unconnected to the above, bear in mind a person can be allergic to virtually anything. Those listed above are only common allergies. (Learn More)
Controlling your allergies largely depends on the type you suffer from. Broadly speaking, keeping a clean home and avoiding the allergen that affects you can go a long way in avoiding symptoms. Pollen is one allergen people often accidentally let in their homes through open windows and fans. (Learn More)
It’s not always possible to avoid allergens, so medications are available to treat allergies. OTC solutions include artificial tears, antihistamines, and decongestants.
A variety of prescription medications also exist that can help with more serious allergies. These generally carry more serious side effects.
Always be careful to understand the downsides and risks of a medication. Talk to a doctor if you experience any problems. (Learn More)
Allergies & Your Eyes
Allergies are when your body’s immune system reacts to a substance that is not ordinarily a threat, such as pet dander or pollen, in a way that causes irritation.
In severe cases, allergies can be dangerous, causing anaphylactic shock. It’s more common that allergies irritate the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin but are otherwise not immediately dangerous.
Allergies that affect the eyes can be especially troublesome, as the eyes are very sensitive. If your eyes are itching and watering, it can cause further problems.
Rubbing your eyes has the potential to damage them. Anything that interferes with your ability to see can make things like driving or operating heavy machinery dangerous.
Of all the mild to moderate allergies people have to deal with, many find eye symptoms the most troublesome and distracting. While it is not always possible to completely avoid these symptoms, things can be done to mitigate their severity and frequency.
There are a few common allergy triggers when it comes to eye symptoms, although it should be noted that there are also many more less common triggers. Common triggers include the following:
- Pet dander
- Dust mites
It is primarily pollen that leads to what are called seasonal allergies. Whatever is triggering them comes and goes with the seasons.
Different regions can have wildly different levels of pollen at a given time. Some people may experience few, if any symptoms, in some places, even at times of the year when they normally have allergies.
Dealing With Allergies
The first step to dealing with allergies is simply understanding what is triggering them in the first place. If it doesn’t appear to be any of the common triggers above, do some research and consider talking to an allergist (a doctor who specializes in allergies).
Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can begin finding ways to alleviate symptoms. The most obvious way to avoid symptoms is to simply avoid the trigger. If your body is not exposed to an allergen, it is not going to have an allergic reaction. However, this is obviously not always possible. At the same time, exposure can often be mitigated.
- For pollen
- Keep windows closed and use air conditioning to cool off. Be sure to keep the air conditioning unit clean.
- Avoid using window fans. They pull allergens into your house.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes from allergens.
- For dust
- Get mite-proof covers for your box spring, pillows, duvet, and comforters.
- For mold
- Use a dehumidifier, and frequently clean rooms at risk for mold.
- For pets
- If allergic to pet dander, wash your hands after petting them.
- Replace your carpets with hard surfaces, which are easier to clean
- Avoid coming into close contact with animals.
Over-the-Counter Medications to Help Your Eyes
For some people, the above tips may still not be enough to achieve reasonable control over their symptoms. Several OTC and prescription medications are available to treat allergies, although it is important to only take these as intended.
One major contributor to allergy symptoms is a chemical in your body called histamine. This neurotransmitter serves several roles in the body, but it can also cause unwanted side effects related to allergies. As such, many medications that treat allergies affect the mechanisms related to histamine in some way.
While OTC medications tend to be less harsh than prescription drugs, they still should be taken with caution. Follow their instructions, and bear in mind their risks and side effects. Some OTC medications that can help with eye allergies include:
- Tear substitutes. These are artificial tears that keep the eyes moist. They can also wash allergens from the eyes. Tear substitutes tend to be safe and can be refrigerated, allowing them to be cooler and potentially more soothing. Artificial tears are good for dry or irritated eyes. They carry few risks if used properly.
- Oral antihistamines. Antihistamines can be used to treat allergies, and they can relieve eye itching for some people. However, for some people, they can potentially worsen symptoms and cause eyes to dry out. Antihistamines can cause dizziness, excitability, and sedation. If you experience serious side effects, stop taking them until you see a doctor.
- Decongestants. Good for temporary relief of redness in the eye, decongestants should not be taken for more than three days. Doing so can cause your symptoms to get worse. People with glaucoma should not use decongestants, as they narrow the blood vessels in the eye. Some decongestants are also antihistamines, helping to relieve both redness and itchiness.
Prescription Allergy Medications for the Eyes
If OTC solutions are not enough, talk to your doctor about your other options. Some prescription solutions to allergies include:
- Allergy shots. These help people build resistance to whatever causes their reaction by administering gradually increased doses of the allergen over the course of a period of a few months. This does not always erase symptoms, but it can often reduce them.
- Antihistamine eyedrops. Similar in properties to the antihistamines described earlier, these drugs are prescription grade. They still carry many of the disadvantages of eyedrops, namely that they must be applied often. You may need to use them four or more times in a single day for best effect.
- Mast cell stabilizer eyedrops. These drops work by preventing the release of histamines, which cause allergy symptoms, as well as other substances that can contribute to allergies. Notably they work best before you are exposed to allergies, as they cannot prevent itching that is already occurring.
- NSAID eyedrops. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help to relieve itching, but they can cause burning and stinging as well. Like other eyedrops, they must be applied multiple times a day.
- Corticosteroid eyedrops. Meant for chronic, severe eye allergies, these can cause fairly serious side effects in the long term, including glaucoma, cataracts, and infection. However, they can help to reduce itching, swelling, and redness when other solutions are proving inadequate.
- Non-sedating oral antihistamines. These prescription antihistamines can help some people with allergy symptoms, and they have different side effects than regular antihistamines. They are only mildly effective at relieving itching for most people, and they can still cause dryness to worsen.
Allergies: Symptoms & Causes. (January 6, 2018). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).
Eye Allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Understanding Eye Allergies. (July 25, 2019). WebMD.
The Dangers of Rubbing Your Eyes. (July 25, 2016). Vision Eye Institute.