Eye Allergies

An eye allergy, known as allergic conjunctivitis, is an immune reaction on the surface of the eye.

Histamines are released to the area of contact, which causes symptoms such as red, itchy, or watery eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis may happen at any time of year, but is especially common during the spring, summer, and fall when trees, grasses, and ragweed are in bloom.

Most eye allergies are caused by allergens in the air such as pollen, dander, or smoke, but may happen when a sensitive person who has come in contact with an allergen rubs her eyes with her hands.

Most of the time both eyes are affected but, occasionally, as is the case when coming in contact with an allergen such as poison oak or poison ivy, only a single eye will be involved. In some people, eye allergies may be related to eczema and asthma as well.

Pink Eye or Allergies?

The human eyeball is covered by a thin membrane called the conjunctiva. When something irritates this covering, the eyes may become itchy, swollen, red, and watery— a condition known as conjunctivitis or "pink eye." Medically speaking, an eye allergy is simply another form of pink eye.

Besides allergens, other things that may cause pink eye include viral or bacterial infections, contact lenses, eye drops or ointments or any other substances that irritates the eye. Allergic conjunctivitis and pink eye caused by lenses and irritants are not contagious, but conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or viruses may be.

Most pink eye eventually clears up on its own (although bacterial pinky eye will require treatment with antibacterial eye drops or ointments). Pink eye that shows up around the same time each year is usually related to allergens such as pollens.

Pink eye rarely affects a person's vision.

Symptoms of Eye Allergies

Symptoms of eye allergies may include:

  • itchy or burning eyes
  • tearing
  • red or pink eyes (may include stringy discharge)
  • swollen or "puffy" eyelids (especially in the morning)
  • scaling around the eyes (rarely)
  • accompanied by other symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, or sneezing

Treatment of Eye Allergies

The best treatment for an eye allergy is to avoid the allergen that is causing it. If a person doesn't know the cause of his allergies, he should make an appointment with an allergist to find out.

More serious symptoms may require a person to take an antihistamine or anti-inflammatory medication, especially when other symptoms are present. In the most severe cases, allergy shots should be considered.

Best Allergy Eye Drops

Eye drops frequently prescribed for allergic conjunctivitis contain olopatadine hydrochloride, which are available under the brand names Pataday and Patanol.

According to the findings of a 2008 study published in the journal Clinical Ophthalmology, "olopatadine hydrochloride ophthalmic solution has an excellent, strong, and safe anti-allergic effect in vitro and it provides superior clinical effectiveness in patients with AC compared with other histamine antagonistic ophthalmic solutions or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops."

Natural Remedies for Eye Allergies

Several homeopathic remedies have been used in the treatment of allergic conjunctivitis with varying degrees of success, including allium cepa (made from red onion), euphorbium, and galphimia. A person should contact his healthcare provider about the safety and effectiveness of these and other natural remedies.

For many people, a cool, moist washcloth may provide relief for an eye allergy. The sufferer should place the washcloth over his or her closed eyes several times a day.

Allergy Eye Drops

Lubricating eye drops such as "artificial tears" can help wash allergens from the eyes.

Many different types of over-the-counter and prescription eye drops are available to treat allergic conjunctivitis. They include lubricating, antihistamine, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications. Some eye drops must be used every day while others can be used as needed to relieve symptoms.

Eye drops may cause burning or stinging at first, but any unpleasantness usually resolves within a few minutes. Some eye drops may cause side effects, so it is important for the allergy sufferer to consult a doctor in order to find out which eye drops are the right ones for his or her condition.