Eye Allergies

Last Updated: March 11, 2023


Outdoor allergens such as ragweed, grass or tree pollen can bring on seasonal allergies but indoor triggers including pet dander, mold, feathers in bedding and dust mites can cause symptoms all year long. Cigarette smoke, perfume, car exhaust and some cosmetics can also bring on symptoms.

When allergens come in contact with your body, they bind themselves to your antibodies.  It is the activated antibodies that trigger your immune system, which releases the histamine-loaded mast cells in your eyes to combat the allergens.  The process is an overreaction of the immune system to generally harmless allergens.

What Are Eye Allergy Symptoms?

  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Clear, watery discharge

While these symptoms can appear alone, they can also be accompanied by a stuffy nose, sneezing and sniffling.

Managing and Treating Eye Allergies

Unfortunately, eye allergy symptoms can be difficult to completely eradicate. The first step in management is avoidance. Try to stay away from the particular allergen by:

  • Keeping windows closed when pollens are more likely to be in the air and use air-conditioning when possible in your car or home.
  • Wearing glasses or sunglasses when you are outside to help keep pollen out of your eyes.
  • Using “mite proof” bedding.
  • Using a dehumidifier to keep mold at bay.
  • Washing your hands after petting animals.
  • Cleaning floors with a damp mop (sweeping can stir up, rather than get rid of, allergens.
  • Keeping the filters in your furnace clean

Symptoms that persist warrant further evaluation by an optometrist. A professional examination of the eye with a bio-microscope provides a magnified view of eye tissues and structures, allowing an optometrist to identify the signs of allergy and rule out other causes of eye irritation such as bacterial or viral infections.

How to control some eye allergy symptoms

  • Hold a clean face cloth soaked in ice-cold water over closed eyes for five to ten minutes to reduce itchiness. 
  • Use non-prescription artificial tear eye drops two or three times a day, especially if they are stored in the refrigerator to keep them cold.
  • Use antihistamine drops.
  • Use prescription medications that combine an antihistamine and a mast cell stabilizer.
  • Use prescription medications that settle ocular inflammation.
  • Use oral antihistamines (NB:  these may dry your eyes and make symptoms worse)

Video: What are the best remedies for eye allergies? | Dr. Clare Halleran

What are the treatments for children’s allergies?

As with adults, managing children’s allergies begins with avoiding known triggers.  However, persistent symptoms warrant a visit to the optometrist, who can help confirm an allergy and recommend appropriate treatment.  This may include prescription allergy eye drops, which are more effective at reducing inflammation of ocular tissues, even in young children. Non-prescription eye care allergy remedies should not be given to children without first speaking to an optometrist. An optometrist can also advise you when it is useful to see an allergist for formal allergy tests.