What are the symptoms of eye allergies

To get relief from your eye allergies and itchy, watery eyes, you can take a few approaches:


General Information

Redness and inflammation of the eye has been reported as being the most common eye problem in Australia. A major cause of eye problems is conjunctivitis, which is an inflammation of the ‘conjunctiva’ (the thin clear tissue that lines that inner eyelids and covers the white part of the eyeball).

There are 3 main types of conjunctivitis: allergic, bacterial and viral.

They can be hard to tell apart, and each is treated differently. Irritant conjunctivitis can also happen due to dryness and/or foreign matter in the eye.

What are the symptoms of eye allergies

Always seek medical advice if you own red or painful eyes, loss of vision, irregular shaped pupils or there is unusual discharge.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is generally caused by triggers, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander (hair and dead skin cells from animals), cosmetics or preservatives in eye drops. Symptoms include:

  1. watery eyes
  2. sensitivity to light
  3. dark pouches under eyes
  4. itchy, burning, sore, red eyes with puffy eyelids
  5. other symptoms of allergy, such as sneezing and a blocked or runny nose

Ask about prescription medications

If your allergy symptoms are relatively severe or over-the-counter eye drops are ineffective at providing relief, you may need your eye doctor to prescribe a stronger medication.

Prescription eye drops and oral medications used to relieve eye allergies include:


Part of the body's natural allergic response is the release of histamine, a substance that dilates blood vessels and making the walls of blood vessels abnormally permeable.

Symptoms caused by histamine include a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.

Antihistamines reduce allergic reactions by blocking the attachment of histamine to cells in the body that produce an allergic response.

Use eye drops

Because eye allergies are so common, there are numerous brands of non-prescription eye drops available that are formulated to relieve itchiness, redness and watery eyes caused by allergies.

If your eye allergy symptoms are relatively mild, non-prescription eye drops for allergy relief may work extremely well for you and may be less expensive than prescription eye drops or other medication.

Enquire your eye doctor to recommend a brand to try.

Remove your contacts

Because the surface of contact lenses can attract and accumulate airborne allergens, consider wearing glasses instead of contacts during allergy season. Or consider switching to daily disposable contacts that you discard after a single use to avoid the buildup of allergens and other debris on your lenses.

Often, the best choice if allergies are bothering your eyes is to discontinue wearing contacts altogether — at least until every your allergy symptoms are gone.

What are the symptoms of eye allergies

Also, wearing eyeglasses with photochromic lenses can reduce allergy-related sensitivity to light and can assist shield your eyes from airborne allergens.

Avoid allergens

The best approach to controlling your eye allergy symptoms is to do everything you can to limit your exposure to common allergens that you know you are sensitive to.

For example, on days when the pollen count is high, stay indoors as much as possible, with the air conditioner running to filter the air. Use high quality furnace filters that can trap common allergens and replace the filters frequently.

When you do go outdoors during allergy season, wear wraparound sunglasses to assist shield your eyes from pollen, ragweed, etc., and drive with your windows closed.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria and is extremely contagious, commonly infecting other family members.

What are the symptoms of eye allergies

Symptoms, which may start suddenly and may affect one eye before the other, include:

  1. eyelids may be stuck together when you wake up, or there may be yellow discharge coming from your eyes.
  2. red, burning, sore or gritty eyes with puffy eyelids
  3. swelling of the eyelid
  4. there are generally no other symptoms associated with bacterial conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus and is contagious. Sometimes it is accompanied by freezing or flu symptoms. Symptoms include:

  1. itchy and swollen eyes
  2. red, sore, watery or gritty eyes
  3. crusty eyelids

Treatment Options

Other eye drops, to prevent allergy symptoms


cromoglycate (Cromolux Eye Drops, Opticrom), lodoxamide (Lomide Eye Drops 0.1%)

  1. these prevent allergic reactions in the eyes and need to be used 4 to 6 times per day, depending on the ingredient, for the entire time you are exposed to triggers, such as during spring

Bacterial conjunctivitis

  1. dispose of tissues carefully
  2. do not use decongestant eye drops as they can mask redness and infection
  3. do not share face cloths, towels or eye drops
  4. bathe eyelids with warm water or saline, and use warm face cloths
  5. children should be excluded from school until the infection subsides

Antihistamine and mast cell stabiliser eye drops

  1. histamine is released from mast cells when you own an allergic reaction, which leads to hayfever.

    Mast cell stabiliser medicines assist reduce this histamine release, and so reduce allergic reactions and hayfever


e.g. ketotifen (Zaditen)

Combination eye drops including decongestant


What are the symptoms of eye allergies

naphazoline + antazoline (Antistine-Privine, Albalon-A), pheniramine + naphazoline (Visine Allergy with Antihistamine, Naphcon-A)

  1. some eye drops cause temporary stinging
  2. some eye drops contain an antihistamine (such as pheniramine, antazoline) to stop itching, and a decongestant (such as naphazoline) to take away redness
  3. limit use of combination eye drops to no more than 5 to 7 days to avoid a ‘rebound’ redness from overuse

Older, sedating antihistamines

e.g. chlorpheniramine + pseudoephedrine (Demazin 6 Hour Relief Tablets), dexchlorpheniramine (Polaramine), loratadine + pseudoephedrine (Claratyne-D with Decongestant Repetabs), promethazine (Phenergan, Sandoz Fenezal)

  1. do not drink alcohol with medicines that make you drowsy
  2. sedating antihistamines are not suitable for everyone; check with your pharmacist.
  3. these medicines can cause drowsiness, sometimes the next day; it is significant you do not drive or operate machinery
  4. not available without a prescription for children under 2 years old
  5. if you own other medical conditions, such as glaucoma, epilepsy or prostate problems, or you take antidepressants, check with your pharmacist before taking these medicines

Oral antihistamines (tablets and syrups)

  • when you own an allergic reaction your body releases histamine, which leads to hay fever.

    Antihistamines block this reaction. There are two types:

    1. older sedating antihistamines that cause drowsiness
    2. newer, less sedating antihistamines, which do not typically cause drowsiness
    3. antihistamines are excellent for treating hay fever symptoms as they happen, especially if you own a lot of diverse symptoms. You can also take them in advance if you know you are going to be exposed to allergens or triggers

    Allergic conjunctivitis

    1. avoid triggers (e.g. pollen, animal dander) where possible
    2. apply a freezing flannel or lubricating eye drops to soothe eyes

    Antihistamines (to treat and prevent symptoms)

    1. when you own an allergic reaction your body releases histamine, which leads to ‘allergic’ symptoms
    2. allergic conjunctivitis can be treated with antihistamine tablets or eye drops.
    3. you can prevent and/or treat the allergic reaction by taking antihistamines when you are around triggers, such as pollen or pet dander

    Antibacterial eye drops and ointment


    propamidine (Brolene Eye Drops)


    e.g. chloramphenicol (Chloromycetin Eye Ointment and Drops, Chlorsig Eye Ointment and Drops, Minims Chloramphenicol 0.5% Eye Drops), sulphacetamide (Bleph-10 Eye Drops)

    1. some people may be allergic to the contents of eye drops, so check with your pharmacist before taking
    2. for the best effect use drops or ointment every few hours, according to instructions, and clean away discharge before applying
    3. eye ointment may temporarily blur vision, so it may be better to use it in the evening
    4. if conjunctivitis persists, see your doctor for further treatment
    5. continue using treatment until 24 hours after your conjunctivitis has cleared
    6. bacterial conjunctivitis can resolve without treatment; however, antibacterial eye drops or ointments may speed your recovery
    7. some of these drops or ointments should be avoided in pregnancy

    Antihistamine eye drops


    azelastine (Eyezep Eye Drops), levocabastine (Livostin Eye Drops, Zyrtec Levocabastine Eye Drops)

    Newer, less-sedating antihistamines

    e.g. cetirizine (ZepAllergy, Zilarex, Zyrtec), desloratadine (Aerius), fexofenadine (Fexotabs, Telfast), loratadine (Claratyne, Lorano)

    1. cetirizine and loratadine are available as syrups for children; check correct doses for diverse age groups
    2. newer antihistamines may rarely cause drowsiness; do not drive or operate machinery if you are affected.

      Cetirizine is more likely to cause drowsiness than other less sedating antihistamines

    e.g. fexofenadine + pseudoephedrine (Telfast Decongestant)

    Viral conjunctivitis

    1. dispose of tissues carefully
    2. don’t share face cloths, towels or eye drops
    3. apply a freezing face cloth or lubricating eye drops to soothe eyes

    Lubricant eye drops and gels

    e.g. Albalon Relief, Bion Tears, Blink Intensive Tears, Cellufresh, Celluvisc, GelTears, Genteal Gel, Genteal Lubricant Eye Drops, HPMC PAA, Hylo-Forte, In A Wink Moisturising Eye Drops, Liquifilm Forte, Liquifilm Tears, Lux Clean, Luxyal, Luxyal Monodose, Methopt, Murine Eye Drops, Murine Revital Eyes, Murine Tears, Optifresh, Optive, Optrex Eye Drops, PAA, Poly Gel Lubricating Eye Gel, Poly-Tears, PVA Forte, PVA Tears, Refresh, Refresh Contacts, Refresh Liquigel, Refresh Plus, Refresh Tears Plus, Rohto Zi Contact Eye Drops, Rohto Zi Unused Eye Drops, Systane, Tears Again, Tears Naturale, TheraTears, Viscotears, Visine Professional, Vistil, Vistil Forte

    1. lubricating eye drops and bathing of the eyes can be soothing
    2. viral conjunctivitis generally resolves by itself
    3. topical decongestant eye drops may help

    What causes eye allergies

    Common allergens include pollen, animal dander and mold.

    Eye allergies also can be caused by reactions to certain cosmetics or eye drops, including artificial tears used for treating dry eyes that contain preservatives.

    Food allergies and allergic reactions to bee stings or other insect bites typically do not affect the eyes as severely as airborne allergens do.

    More Information

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    Last Reviewed: 16/04/2016

    The primary types of eye allergy are seasonal or perennial allergic conjunctivitis, vernal keratoconjunctivitis, atopic keratoconjunctivitis, contact allergic conjunctivitis and giant papillary conjunctivitis.

    Atopic keratoconjunctivitis

    This type of allergy primarily affects older patients — mostly men with a history of allergic dermatitis.

    Symptoms of atopic keratoconjunctivitis can happen year-round and are similar to those of vernal keratoconjunctivitis:

    1. Redness
    2. Burning
    3. Severe itching
    4. Significant production of thick mucus that, after sleep, may cause the eyelids to stick together

    If left untreated, atopic keratoconjunctivitis can result in scarring of the cornea and its delicate membrane.

    Contact allergic conjunctivitis

    This can result from irritation by contact lenses or by the proteins from tears that bind to the surface of the lens. Symptoms include:

    1. Mucous discharge
    2. Itching
    3. Redness
    4. Lens discomfort

    Vernal keratoconjunctivitis

    Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a more serious eye allergy than SAC or PAC.

    While it can happen year-round, symptoms may worsen seasonally. It primarily occurs in boys and young men; about 75 percent of patients also own eczema or asthma. Symptoms include:

    1. The feeling of having something in the eye (foreign body sensation)
    2. Significant tearing and production of thick mucus
    3. Itching
    4. Aversion to light (photophobia)

    If left untreated, vernal keratoconjunctivitis can impair vision.

    Seasonal and perennial allergic conjunctivitis

    Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) is by far the most common type of eye allergy.

    What are the symptoms of eye allergies

    Patients experience symptoms in spring, summer or drop, depending on the type of plant pollens in the air. Typical symptoms include:

    1. Burning
    2. Redness
    3. Itching
    4. Clear, watery discharge

    People with SAC may own chronic dark circles (known as allergic shiners) under their eyes. The eyelids may be puffy, and bright lights may be bothersome. SAC symptoms often accompany the runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion associated with hay fever and other seasonal allergies.

    The itching may be so bothersome that patients rub their eyes frequently, making symptoms worse and potentially causing infection.

    Perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC), as its name implies, occurs year-round. Symptoms are the same as with SAC, but tend to be milder.

    What are the symptoms of eye allergies

    They are caused by reactions to dust mites, mold, pet dander or other household allergens, rather than pollen.

    Giant papillary conjunctivitis

    Associated with wearing contact lenses, giant papillary conjunctivitis is a severe form of contact allergic conjunctivitis in which individual fluid sacs, or papules, form in the upper lining of the inner eyelid. Symptoms include:

    1. Blurred vision
    2. Mucous discharge
    3. Tearing
    4. Poor tolerance for wearing contact lenses
    5. Puffiness
    6. Itching
    7. Foreign body sensation

    What Are the Symptoms of an Allergy?

    An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it.

    The symptoms that result are an allergic reaction.

    What are the symptoms of eye allergies

    The substances that cause allergic reactions are allergens. Allergens can get into your body numerous ways to cause an allergic reaction.

    1. Your body can own allergens injected into it. This includes medicine given by needle and venom from insect stings and bites.

      What are the symptoms of eye allergies

    2. You can ingest allergens by mouth. This includes food and medicines you eat or swallow.
    3. You can inhale allergens into your nose and your lungs. Many are little enough to float through the air. Examples are pollen, home dust, mold spores, cat and dog dander and latex dust.
    4. Your skin can absorb allergens. Plants such as poison ivy, sumac and oak can cause reactions when touched.

      Latex, metals, and ingredients in beauty care and household products are other examples.

    See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional

    1. if you own a freezing sore, herpes or shingles
    2. if you are pregnant or breastfeeding; some medicines may not be suitable
    3. if you own had the problem before
    4. if the person with the eye problem is a baby, young kid, or elderly
    5. if you own other symptoms, such as headache, vomiting or a rash
    6. if you own significant swelling of the eyes
    7. if your eyes are painful, sensitive to light, you see colour around lights, or your sight is affected
    8. if only one eye is affected
    9. if you ponder the problem was caused by something stuck in your eye
    10. if you own other medical conditions or use other medicines
    11. if you own strangely shaped pupils or cloudy eyes
    12. if you own allergies to any medicines
    13. if your eyes own a discharge, such as pus
    14. if your eyes do not reply to treatment, or do not improve in 2 days
    15. if you wear contact lenses

    Treatment Tips

    1. some eye drops can cause temporary stinging, if this continues, talk to your pharmacist
    2. if you are using more than one type of eye drops, leave 10 minutes between applications
    3. throw eye drop bottles away one month after opening; mark the date you open them on the bottle (check product details as some eye drops can only be used for shorter periods)
    4. protect your eyes from wind and sun by wearing sunglasses
    5. do not wear contact lenses with some eye drops; check with your pharmacist
    6. do not wear contact lenses if you own an eye infection, such as conjunctivitis
    7. simple analgesics such as paracetamol may help in relieving the pain associated with viral conjunctivitis

    Tips for applying eye drops

    1. close your eye and press gently over the corner, near your nose, to stop the drops draining through your tear duct
    2. wait 10 minutes before adding other eye products
    3. do not touch your eye with the dropper tip
    4. try not to blink straightaway, as this draws eye drops into the tear duct and out of the eye
    5. hold the bottle between your thumb and index finger and squeeze gently to release one drop into your eye pocket
    6. pull your lower eyelid below gently with your index finger to form a pocket; tilt your head back slightly and glance up
    7. always wash your hands first
    8. apply only one drop at a time into the affected eye(s) unless the first drop was incorrectly istered
    9. use eye drops before eye ointment

    Tips for applying eye ointment

    1. apply a little blob of ointment into your lower eyelid pocket
    2. hold the tube between your thumb and index finger and relax your hand against the base of your nose, to position the tube tip
    3. do not touch the eye with the tube tip

    Eye allergies: Get relief from itchy, watery eyes

    By Gary Heiting, OD

    Eye allergies — red, itchy, watery eyes that are bothered by the same irritants that cause sneezing and a runny nose among seasonal allergy sufferers — are extremely common.

    In addition to having symptoms of sneezing, congestion and a runny nose, most of these allergy sufferers also experience itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes and swollen eyelids.

    In some cases, eye allergies also can frolic a role in conjunctivitis (pink eye) and other eye infections.

    If you ponder you own eye allergies, here are a few things you should know — including helpful tips on how to get relief from your red, itchy, watery eyes.