Generally the symptoms of eye allergy are mild to moderate. They usually get better with simple treatments that you can do yourself, such as irrigating your eyes with saline (salt water) and placing packs and cold water compresses on your eyes. However, sometimes the symptoms can be extremely severe and require you to see your doctor or ophthalmologist for medical treatment to relieve them.
Try to identify the cause of the allergy and remove it where possible. Here are some tips.
However, avoiding allergy triggers isn’t easy for everyone. If you can’t avoid some triggers, oral antihistamine medicines may help you, or topical (applied directly to the eye) medicines, such as:
Some of these medicines, such as eye drops containing vasoconstrictors or cortisone, must not be used long term without the supervision of an ophthalmologist.
Severe allergic conjunctivitis that isn’t helped by other treatments may benefit from specific allergen immunotherapy (desensitisation) which is usually effective. However, relief from eye symptoms will take longer to occur than relief of nose symptoms if you’re experiencing these.
The older (first generation) oral antihistamines have a sedative effect. Second generation (newer) antihistamines are non-sedating, but both types may have side-effects. These can include:
If you have glaucoma, you should not take antihistamines at all unless an ophthalmologist advises it.
All eye drops (except for single dose packs) contain preservative, which can cause sensitisation in some people.
Antihistamine eye drops (which need to be used twice daily) have very few side effects (apart from those which can occur from the preservative if you’re sensitive to this) but they should not be used for longer than 8 weeks without medical advice.
Topical vasoconstrictor (causes narrowing of the blood vessels) eye medications don’t have many side effects, unlike vasoconstrictor medications that are used for nasal symptoms. However, both types can cause ‘rebound’ effects, encouraging overuse as the eye gets red again as the effect wears off.
Sodium cromoglycate eye drops rarely cause side effects, but you should talk to your doctor about using these because they come in different strengths. Cromoglycate may occasionally have an effect within 2 days or so, but usually it takes much longer than this to work (sometimes up to 2 months) because of the way it acts on the eye.
Steroid drops are effective in relieving symptoms quickly, but may be associated with cataract formation, glaucoma and bacterial and viral infections of the cornea and conjunctiva if they’re used long term. They should be used only for a very short period, only under medical supervision and never if you have any kind of herpes infection.
If you are prescribed any topical medication for your eye, always keep it in the fridge. You should also make sure you dispose of it after the container has been opened for 4 weeks, to guard against it being contaminated by bacteria.
Last Reviewed: 02 January 2002