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. When the symptoms are severe, prolonged rubbing of the eyes can lead to additional problems, such as keratoconus (thinning of the cornea), loss of eyelashes and eyebrows, and even retinal detachment. Therefore, the treatment of itchy eyes is very important. There are many ways in which this symptom can be treated.

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 have claimed that keeping eye drops in the refrigerator improves how they feel, evidence from clinical research does not prove any benefit to this practice. Always ask your physician if it's safe to store your eye drops in the refrigerator.

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 (OTC) and prescription forms. Many of the OTC 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 conjunctivitis medicamentosa with long-term use.

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, less sedating versions are also available over the counter (OTC) and often in generic forms, including Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Allegra (fexofenadine).

Xyzal (levocetirizine) and Clarinex (desloratadine) are available in prescription form, but may not add many benefits over the OTC versions. Older, more sedating versions (such as Benadryl) may be useful as well, but probably should not be used long-term given their side effects.

Allergy nasal sprays have also been shown to be beneficial for the treatment of itchy eyes associated with eye allergy, but probably would not be the best choice if itchy eyes were the main symptom. Nasal steroid sprays and nasal antihistamine sprays are both available only by prescription, in many brands and generic versions.

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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.