Over-the-Counter Eye Drops for Allergies

Short- and Long-Term Options to Alleviate Symptoms

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Eye allergies are caused by allergens in the air that come into contact with the eye and trigger an immune response. People can experience the symptoms of an eye allergy periodically, seasonally, or all year-round. Symptoms include itchy, red, and teary eyes but may also involve eye puffiness, sensitivity to light, and a burning sensation.

Short-Term OTC Eye Drops

There is a number of over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops that provide excellent short-term relief. Most contain a topical decongestant such as naphazoline used in Visine and other OTC brands. While effective, they should never be used for more than a week.

According to guidance from the American College of Allergies, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), the long-term use of naphazoline increases the risk of a condition known as conjunctivitis medicamentosa. Rather than alleviating redness and irritation, the condition can increase symptoms and lead to greater dependence on eye drops for relief.

Long-Term OTC Eye Drops

There are also OTC eye drops that can be used for longer periods of time. These include ketotifen, marketed under such brand names as Zaditor and Alaway.

Unlike naphazoline, ketotifen does not contain a decongestant but rather combines an antihistamine with a mast cell stabilizer. The dual action suppresses histamine (the chemical responsible for allergy symptoms) while preventing mast cells from producing additional histamine.

A similar, prescription-strength eye drop called Patanol (olopatadine) is also available. It is generally reserved for persons who suffer frequent bouts and may require two weeks' use before the full effects of the drug can be felt.

Tips for Coping

While medication is certainly one way to manage an eye allergy, there are other practical measures that can help:

  • Avoid rubbing the eyes as this can worsen the symptoms.
  • Apply a cool compress to alleviate eye swelling and irritation.
  • Use artificial tears to wash allergens from the eyes.
  • Avoid contact lenses and eye makeup during an acute episode.
  • Try to stay indoors as much as possible during allergy season. Also, keep your windows shut and use an air conditioner in the car rather than opening a vent or window.

If symptoms persist or worsen despite these interventions, consider scheduling an appointment with an ophthalmologist to see if there are other possible causes for your condition.

Immunotherapy Options

On the other hand, if you suffer year-round allergies, you may be well served to see an allergist. This medical specialist can run a series of tests to identify which specific allergens you are reacting to.

By doing so, the doctor may be able to prescribe a series of allergy shots to help desensitize you to the specific triggers. There are even sublingual immunotherapy drugs (allergy drops) that may help prevent or minimize allergic reactions.

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Article Sources

  • Ackerman, S.; Smith, L.; and Gomes, P. "Ocular itch associated with allergic conjunctivitis: latest evidence and clinical management." Ther Adv Chronic Dis. 2016; 7(1):52-67. doi:10.117/2040622315612745.

  • Kari, O. and Saari, K. "Updates in the treatment of ocular allergies." J Asthma Allergy. 2010; 3:149-58. doi:10.2147/JAA.S13705.