How to Treat and Prevent Your Eye Allergies

Up to 20% of Americans suffer from eye allergies. An eye allergy develops when something you are allergic to irritates the conjunctiva of your eye. The conjunctiva covers your eye and the inside of your eyelid. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports many types of allergens indoor and outdoor including, pollen from grass, trees and ragweed, dust, pet dander, mold, and smoke. The academy also notes that eye allergies can develop from perfumes, cosmetics, and certain types of medicines.

People with seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) normally notice their symptoms worsen when they go outdoors on days with high pollen counts. Even though oral antihistamines may be used for itchy eyes, these products can dry the eyes out, producing even more annoying symptoms. The following are eight ways to treat eye allergies without resorting to medications taken by mouth.

As always, if your eye allergy symptoms include eye pain, extreme redness, or heavy discharge, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. Some eye conditions can become serious enough to threaten eyesight if treatment is delayed.


Avoid Triggers

Woman getting drops in her eyes
Nico De Pasquale Photography/Moment/Getty Images

The most common way to treat eye allergies is to avoid the substances, or antigens, that are causing your symptoms. Antigens are the particles that activate your allergies, such as pollen, pet dander, dust, ​and grasses. It is important to avoid airborne allergens as well as contact allergens.

Indoor allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, mold, and smoke can also cause eye allergies throughout the year. If you suffer from this type of allergy, you may notice more symptoms while cleaning your house or playing with your pet.

Indoor allergens seem to lurk in places we don't think much about. Something as simple as washing your pillowcase more often can help tremendously. Pillow protectors and allergy proof pillow cases are also available for those who suffer from indoor allergies.

Also, remember to change your air conditioning filter from time to time. Taking a shower before bed can also help, as antigens can get caught in your hair and clothes throughout the day. Keep in mind that rubbing your eyes can trigger eye allergies and should be avoided.


Cold Compresses

Red, irritated eyes can feel extremely miserable. Symptoms due to eye allergies usually respond well to cold compresses. A cold compress works by shrinking irritated eye tissue and providing soothing relief.

To make a cold compress, fill a small bowl with ice and water. Submerge a clean washcloth into the bowl, then wring out the excess water. (Small bags of frozen peas or corn work well for this purpose as well, as they conform to the eye area and maintain a cold temperature.)

Lay your head back and place the cold compresses on top of your closed eyes for five to 10 minutes a few times during the day or when symptoms are at their worst.


Chilled Eye Drops

Eye allergies can make the eyes feel extremely dry and irritated. Instilling eye drops not only lubricates the eyes, but it can be quite soothing. Keep a bottle of doctor-recommended artificial tears, such as Systane Ultra or Optive, in the refrigerator. It's amazing how much better you will feel when you instill a cold eye drop into your eyes several times per day.


OTC Eye Drops

Try an OTC (over-the-counter) vasoconstrictor/antihistamine combination eye drop such as Opcon-A or Naphcon-A. These drops contain both an antihistamine to control itching and a vasoconstrictor to shrink swollen blood vessels to reduce redness. Instill four times per day for about a week.

Extended use is not recommended because "rebound redness" may occur, causing the eyes to appear bloodshot.


Zaditor (ketotifen)

Zaditor, also available under the name Alaway, works well for allergies and is available without a prescription. Zaditor is a dual-action antihistamine and mast-cell stabilizer.


Prescription antihistamine/mast-cell stabilizers

There are several prescription eye drops that are a combination antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer. These are popular drugs because only one drop in the morning lasts for 24 hours. They are generally tolerated well by children because they do not sting the eyes and are safe enough to use every day.

Eye drops in this category include: Optivar (azelastine), Lastacaft (alcaftadine), and Bepreve (bepotastine).

Epinastine is another fast-acting, long-lasting prescription eye drop that relieves itching and soothes the eyes upon installation. It is very similar to Pataday but must be instilled twice per day. However, it has a fast onset, working in as little as three minutes. It is also approved for children as young as three years of age.



Alrex is a mild, safe steroid that is sometimes used in acute allergies. Doctors often prescribe Alrex when something a little stronger is needed.

Alrex is the first steroid designed for seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. It provides relief against itching, redness, burning, and light sensitivity. Many doctors prescribe it four times per day for a week or two and then taper the drop down to once or twice per day for a week or two.

Alrex works well, but if allergies affect your eyes every day, then Pataday or epinastine are probably better alternatives.



Immunotherapy—or allergy shots—are a very effective treatment for allergic conjunctivitis. An allergist will need to administer the shots for a prescribed amount of time.

1 Source
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  1. Turbert D. Eye allergy diagnosis and treatment. American Academy of Ophthalmology.

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.