Treating Eye Allergies When You Wear Contacts

Practical Tips to Prevent or Treat Red, Swollen Eyes

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If you're one of the millions of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, you may be doubly miserable if you wear contacts. Allergens are attracted to the surface of contact lenses, making your eyes a veritable magnet for irritants like pollen and ragweed.

The good news is that there are plenty of options for dealing with seasonal allergies, including antihistamine pills or nasal sprays. Medicated eye drops can also provide much-needed relief so long as you use them as directed. Even choosing a different type of lens can help.

Tips for Treating Eye Allergies If You Wear Contacts
Verywell / Emily Roberts 

How to Use Allergy Eye Drops

Eye drops formulated for allergies are available over the counter (OTC) as well as by prescription.

One of the most widely used OTC drops is ketotifen, sold under such brand names as Zaditor and Alaway. Pataday (olopatadine) is also now available OTC, while steroid-free Optivar (azelastine) is available by prescription.

Unlike regular eye drops, these medications contain an antihistamine that blocks a chemical released by the immune system called histamine. Histamine is the substance responsible for triggering allergy symptoms of the eyes, nose, and skin.

Antihistamine eye drops are generally safe to use with both hard and soft contact lenses.

It is generally recommended that you apply the drops 15 minutes before you put your lenses in. This allows the medication to be better absorbed by the eye, rather than the lens.

Be sure to follow the prescribing information on the packet insert. Do not overuse or keep drops past their expiration date. As a rule of thumb, once you have opened the eye drops, you should never keep them for longer than three months.

Choice of Contact Lenses

For persons prone to seasonal allergies, many eye doctors (ophthalmologists) will recommend single-use soft lenses over multi-day-use lenses. By changing your lenses daily, you can minimize the debris buildup that can exacerbate allergy symptoms.

For those whose vision is not sufficiently improved with soft lenses, gas-permeable lenses are a good alternative. It is important, however, to always precondition them.

Rewetting drops can also help and are safe to place directly into the eye.

Alcohol-based surfactants, which remove protein and debris from the lenses, are used to clean lenses and should always be thoroughly rinsed from the lens before wearing your contact lenses.

Non-Drug Remedies

Beyond medication, there are a number of practical approaches that can help relieve eye allergy symptoms:

  • Keep your contacts clean. If you use one-week to two-month replacement lenses, try cleaning them with a hydrogen-peroxide-based solution. These are less likely to contain preservatives that can worsen eye symptoms.​
  • Change your soft lenses more frequently. Just because the label says "daily" doesn't mean you can't change them more frequently. This may not be something you want to do on an ongoing basis, but it can help if you have to be in public and would rather not do so with red, swollen eyes.
  • Get artificial tears. Purchased over the counter, these can help wash away allergens and soothe the eyes. Be doubly sure to find a brand that is preservative-free.
  • Wear your glasses instead. This is especially true if you suffer profound or persistent eye symptoms.
  • Don't rub your eyes. Rather, use a cool compress to help soothe and alleviate the itch or discomfort.
  • Shower before bedtime. Allergens can accumulate on your body and clothing during the day. Washing helps remove them and may help you sleep better at night.

A Word From Verywell

If you are suffering from red, swollen eyes, don't assume that allergy is the sole problem. You may have an eye infection or be experiencing a reaction to medication. It is always best to have your eyes checked by a doctor if symptoms persist, worsen, or there is a visible discharge from the eyes.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harthan JS, Shorter E. Therapeutic uses of scleral contact lenses for ocular surface disease: patient selection and special considerations. Clin Optom (Auckl). 2018;10:65-74. doi:10.2147/OPTO.S144357

Additional Reading
  • Urgacz, A.; Mrukwa, E.; and Gawlik, R. "Adverse events in allergy sufferers wearing contact lenses." Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2015; 32(3):204-9. DOI: 10.5114/pdia.2015.48071.

  • Wolffsohn, J. and Emberlin, J. "Role of contact lenses in relieving ocular allergy." Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2011;3 4(4):169-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.clae.2011.03.004.

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.