Treatment for Itchy Eyes

Woman sitting at a table and rubbing eye
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Eye allergies, which cause itching, are a common symptom of hay fever. Most allergic eye conditions are bothersome but benign.

However, vernal keratoconjunctivitis and atopic keratoconjunctivitis are two allergic eye conditions that can lead to vision loss through corneal scarring. Therefore, treating itchy eyes is very important.

Non-Medicine Treatments

Itchy eyes can often be treated without the use of medicines. This involves the use of cold compresses placed on the eyes, such as with an ice pack wrapped in a soft towel, and placed over the closed eyes. This technique will often bring relief to itchy eyes within a few minutes and can be repeated as often as necessary.

The use of artificial tears eye drops can also be another effective way to treat eye allergies without the use of medicines. These are available over the counter and serve to lubricate the eye. Artificial tears can also serve to wash away allergens that may be present in the eyes, such as pollen or animal dander.

Although some people believe keeping eye drops in the refrigerator improves how they feel, evidence from clinical research does not prove any benefit to this practice. While artificial tear products are generally fine to store in a refrigerator, if you use medicated eye drops, ask your physician or pharmacist if it's safe to store them in the refrigerator. Some products need to be kept at specific temperatures.

Medicated Eye Drops

There are a number of medicated eye drops available for the treatment of itchy eyes associated with eye allergy, in both over-the-counter and prescription forms. Many of the over-the-counter eye drops are nearly as good as the prescription versions (especially ketotifen), although prolonged use of antihistamine-decongestant eye drops (such as Opcon-A, Naphcon-A, and many Visine products) should be avoided, given the concern for a condition called conjunctivitis medicamentosa with long-term use. With this condition, you may develop an allergy to the eye drops themselves.

Other Treatments

The use of oral antihistamines can be very effective for the treatment of itchy eyes associated with an eye allergy. Many of the newer, non-sedating versions are also available over the counter and often in generic forms, including Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Allegra (fexofenadine).

Xyzal (levocetirizine) and Clarinex (desloratadine) are also now available in over-the-counter versions. Older, more sedating versions (such as Benadryl) may be useful as well, particularly if allergy symptoms are preventing you from falling asleep. However, note that some people feel groggy the day after taking sedating antihistamines. They should not be taken prior to driving or operating heavy machinery.

Caution should also be used when giving Benadryl to young children, since prolonged use can impair learning through grogginess. In addition, a small proportion of children have a paradoxical hyperactivity with Benadryl rather than sedation.

Nasal corticosteroid sprays are particularly effective in treating allergic conjunctivitis, because small amounts of nasal sprays travel through passageways between the nose and eye. While corticosteroid eye drops are not prescribed for most allergic eye conditions due to side effects, the very small amount of steroid that gets in the eye from nasal sprays is thought to be safe for the general population. Nonetheless, anyone with history of glaucoma or cataracts should ask their physician before taking nasal corticosteroids on a regular basis.

A Word From Verywell

Most patients with allergic eye disease also have allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Standard management involves prescribing corticosteroid nasal sprays. Most patients find that nasal corticosteroid sprays alone treat their eye symptoms without further need for medicated eye drops. If your allergic eye symptoms do not go away with over-the-counter therapies, you should seek medical care from an allergist or ophthalmologist.

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  1. Vision Service Plan (VSP). Relieve your teary, allergy eyes.

  2. Bitton E, Crncich V, Brunet N. Does the temperature of an artificial tear affect its comfort?. Clin Exp Optom. 2018;101(5):641-647. doi:10.1111/cxo.12664

  3. Bielory BP, O'brien TP, Bielory L. Management of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis: guide to therapy. Acta Ophthalmol. 2012;90(5):399-407. doi:10.1111/j.1755-3768.2011.02272.x

Additional Reading
  • Bielory L. Allergic and Immunologic Disorders of the Eye. Parts 1 and 2. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2000;106:805-16,1019-32.
  • Ono SJ. Allergic Conjunctivitis: Update on Pathophysiology and Prospects for Future Treatment. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005; 118-22.