Dealing with Eye Allergies

Published: March 10, 2021

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Dealing with Eye Allergies

Allergic conjunctivitis is a common condition occurring when the conjunctiva – the tissue that keeps the eye moist – becomes inflamed, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.(1) The condition, which is not contagious, is a reaction to allergens that get into the eye. Examples of these include pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores.(1)  Symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Feeling like there is dirt or grit in the eyes (1)

In the U.S., up to 40% of the population is affected to some extent by allergic conjunctivitis. “Traditionally, less attention has been paid to this entity compared to other allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis. Due to a lack of awareness from both patients and health care professionals, many continue to be underdiagnosed and undertreated.”(2)

Many people with allergic conjunctivitis try to self-medicate with over-the-counter (OTC) medications or by flushing their eyes with water or saline.(2) OTC medications have limited efficacy for the condition and can have side effects, such as rebound vasodilation from topical vasoconstrictors. An additional concern is the effect of long-term exposure to the preservatives in some OTC drops.(2)

“Optimal management of allergenic conjunctivitis necessitates a broad approach that involves allergen avoidance, symptomatic relief, and pharmacologic suppression of inflammatory responses.”(3) People with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis may benefit from decreasing exposure during allergenic seasons, closing windows, and avoiding the outdoors. Those with perennial allergic conjunctivitis (commonly caused by allergy to dust mites, animal dander, or feathers) are advised to clean frequently and use air filters. For both, cold compresses may provide temporary relief and decrease redness.(3)

According to a major health provider, medications prescribed to control allergic conjunctivitis include antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, decongestants, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drops.(4) For patients who do not respond to avoidance measures or pharmacologic agents, allergen immunotherapy is indicated. “Over time, immunotherapy can effectively reduce immune responses to seasonal or environmental allergens in sensitized individuals to prevent the activation of inflammatory cascades and development of allergic conjunctivitis.”(3)

(1) Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Eye Allergies (Allergic Conjunctivitis)
(2) Dupuis, P. M.D., Prokopich, C. O.D., et. al., Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, A Contemporary Look At Allergic Conjunctivitis,
(3) Carr, W. M.D., Schaeffer, J. O.D., Donnenfeld, E. M.D., Allergy and Rhinology, Treating Allergic Conjunctivitis: A Once-daily Medication that Provides 24-hour Symptom Relief,
(4) Mayo Clinic, Conjunctivitis,