Eye Allergy Treatments

Many people suffer from eye allergies. An eye allergy develops when something you are allergic to irritates the conjunctiva of your eye. The conjunctiva covers your eye and the inside of your eyelid. The most common causes of eye allergies are seasonal allergens such as pollen and mold spores. People with seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) normally notice their symptoms worsen when they go outdoors on days with high pollen counts. 

If your eyes are sensitive to common allergens, the following eye allergy treatments should offer some relief. Even though oral antihistamines may be used for itchy eyes, these products can dry the eyes out, producing even more annoying symptoms. Following are eight ways to treat eye allergies without resorting to medications taken by mouth. As always, if your eye allergy symptoms include eye pain, extreme redness, or heavy discharge, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. Some eye conditions can become serious enough to threaten eyesight if treatment is delayed. 

1
Avoid Triggers

Eye allergies
Eye allergies. Digital Vision / Getty Images

The most common way to treat eye allergies is to avoid the substances, or antigens, that are causing your symptoms. Antigens are the particles that activate your allergies, such as pollen, pet dander, dust and grasses. It is important to avoid airborne allergens as well as contact allergens. Indoor allergens such as dust mites and pet hair can also cause eye allergies throughout the year. If you suffer from this type of allergy, you may notice more symptoms while cleaning your house or playing with your pet. Indoor allergens seem to lurk in places we don't think much about. Something as simple as washing your pillow case more often can help tremendously. Also, remember to change your air conditioning filter from time to time. Taking a shower before bed can also help, as antigens can get caught in your hair and clothes throughout the day. Keep in mind that rubbing your eyes can trigger eye allergies and should be avoided. 

2
Cold Compresses

Red, irritated eyes are extremely miserable. Symptoms due to eye allergies usually respond well to cold compresses. A cold compress works by shrinking irritated eye tissue and providing soothing relief. To make a cold compress, fill a small bowl with ice and water. Submerge a clean washcloth into the bowl, then wring out the excess water. (Small bags of frozen peas or corn work well for this purpose as well, as they conform to the eye area and maintain a cold temperature.) Lay your head back and lay the cold compresses on top of your closed eyes for 5 to 10 minutes a few times during the day or when symptoms are at their worst.

3
Chilled Eye Drops

Eye drops
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Eye allergies can make the eyes feel extremely dry and irritated. Instilling eye drops not your eyes lubricates the eyes and can be quite soothing. Keep a bottle of doctor-recommended artificial tears such as Systane Ultra or Optive in the refrigerator. It's amazing how much better your eyes will feel when you instill a cold eye drop into your eyes several times per day.

4
OTC Antihistamine Drops

Children's eye drops
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Try an OTC (over-the-counter) vasoconstrictor/antihistamine combination eye drop such as Opcon-A or Naphcon-A. These drops contain both an antihistamine to control itching and a vasoconstrictor to shrink swollen blood vessels to reduce redness. These eye drops work great, as they were available only by prescription a few years ago. Instill 4 times per day for about a week. Extended use is not recommended because "rebound redness" may occur, causing the eyes to appear bloodshot.

5
Zatidor (Alaway)

Zaditor, also available under the name Alaway, works well for allergies and is available without a prescription. Zaditor has a triple pharmacologic effect: It has an antihistamine effect, prevents the release of inflammatory mediators that worsen allergic symptoms, and prevents eosinophils from being released. (Eosinophils are immune cells that become activated in late-phase allergies, causing more symptoms.)

6
Pataday

Pataday is one of the most popular prescription-strength drugs prescribed by eye doctors. Pataday is a combination antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer. It is a popular drug because only one drop in the morning lasts for 24 hours. It is tolerated well by children because it does not sting the eyes and is safe enough to use everyday. It is approved to use in children three years of age and older.

7
Elestat

Elestat is a fast-acting, long-lasting prescription eye drop that relieves itching and soothes the eyes upon instillation. It is very similar to Pataday, but must be instilled twice per day. However, it has a fast onset, working in as little as three minutes. It is also approved for children as young as three years of age.

8
Alrex

Alrex is a mild, safe steroid that is sometimes used in acute allergies. Doctors often prescribe Alrex when something a little stronger is needed. Alrex is the first steroid designed for seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. It provides relief against itching, redness, burning, and light sensitivity. Many doctors prescribe it four times per day for a week or two and then taper the drop down to once or twice per day for a week or two. Alrex works well, but if allergies affect your eyes every day, then Pataday or Elestat are probably better alternatives.

Source: Eye Health Media Guide. "Eye Allergies." Pp. 2.8 - 2.12, 2006.

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