Eye Allergies: What They Are, How to Treat Them

  • BY Lainie Petersen

I remember my first serious bout of hay fever at the age of 13. I was sneezing so much that I could barely think and when I had a look in the mirror, I was horrified: My eyes were so swollen that I barely looked like me anymore.

(Eventually, of course, I learned to treat my allergies so that I never ended up in quite such a bad state again, but I’ll never forget the first time I saw myself with my eyes nearly swollen shut.)

If you have eye allergies, you likely know what I am talking about. Your red, itchy eyes likely make you feel miserable and undoubtedly provoke expressions of sympathy from friends and strangers alike.


What Causes Eye Allergies?

There are many causes of eye allergies, many of them “usual suspects” such as ragweed, dust, mold and pet dander.  Some ingredients in eye cosmetics can also trigger allergic reactions.


What are Eye Allergy Symptoms?

Symptoms of eye allergies include redness, swelling, burning and tearing. The trouble is, though that you can have all of these symptoms and still not have eye allergies: You might, for example, have viral or bacterial pink eye or ocular rosacea.


(Your eyes may also be smarting due to sun exposure.)


The other difficulty is that while eye allergies due to hay fever or dust/mold exposure are often accompanied by sneezing and other nasal/sinus issues, this isn’t always the case, making it difficult to determine whether the symptoms are allergy related.

Ideally, you should see a medical professional, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist,  about eye redness, particularly if you are experiencing it for the first time, your eyes are giving off an odd discharge, they are extremely bloodshot or you are in a great deal of discomfort. A medical professional can tell you whether you have allergies or your eye irritation has another cause.


How To Treat Eye Allergies

Standard treatments for eye allergies include oral antihistamines as well as eye drops. While both remedies are generally considered to be safe, if you have glaucoma or high blood pressure, these options may not be suitable for you, so it’s important that you talk to your health care practitioner or pharmacist before making a decision about what over-the-counter treatments are best for you.


(If your eye allergies don’t respond to these treatments, you may need to use prescription drugs, even allergy shots, to manage your condition.)


Lifestyle changes can also help. Here are a few non-medical things you can do to reduce eye allergy symptoms:

  • Get an air filter for your home. Cleaner air can keep pollen and other allergens out of your eyes and nose, making you a lot more comfortable.
  • Keep your living space clean. Dust, mop and change linens regularly to keep dust mites and pet dander at bay, while also reducing the likelihood that mold will develop in your home.
  • Identify allergy triggers and remove them from your home. Many women, for example, find that cosmetics trigger eye allergies. If you use cosmetics or skin care products around the eyes, try not using any products for a few days, then re-adding them to your regimen, one by one. This ought to help you identify the allergy trigger or triggers.


What to Do If Your Efforts Don’t Work

While many people get relief by using over-the-counter remedies and cleaning house of potential irritants, your allergies may prove stubborn. In such cases, visiting an allergist may be a good idea. The allergist can run tests to figure out what your allergies really are and, if necessary, prescribe prescription treatments for your condition.