Eye Allergies

What Are Eye Allergies?

Eye allergies, and the irritation they bring, are increasingly common in the U.S. With proper identification and treatment, allergy sufferers can control their symptoms and avoid future reactions. Specialists at Baptist Health can assist you in managing your allergies.

Eye allergies are the eyes’ physiological reaction to the presence of certain irritants, also called allergens. This reaction is stressful because, even though most allergens are harmless, the eyes treat them as invasive. Eye allergies often occur in combination with nasal and other upper respiratory allergy symptoms.

An estimated 50 million Americans have some form of seasonal allergy. This number appears to be growing. As many as 30 percent of all adults and 40 percent of all children experience allergic reactions that can affect the eyes, eyelids, and tear ducts. 

What Are the Symptoms of an Eye Allergy?

Eye allergies are a special case of conjunctivitis, caused by allergens rather than a bacterial or viral infection. The conjunctiva is the clear tissue that covers your eyeball and the inside of your eyelid. Unlike other forms of conjunctivitis, allergies of the eye are not contagious.

Common Eye Allergy Signs and Symptoms

Allergies can impact all the visible parts of the eye. Common symptoms include:

  • Itchiness, redness, or burning
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Watery tear ducts
  • Light sensitivity

Eye allergies are usually just one aspect of a broader physiological reaction to an allergen, which may also include an itchy or runny nose, headache, sore throat, and coughing.


In rare cases, contact with allergens can cause anaphylaxis, an extreme and possibly fatal allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is marked by:

  • Swollen throat, lips, or tongue
  • Impaired breathing
  • Skin rashes or hives
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Change of color in the face or body (turning pale or red)
  • Gastrointestinal pain
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Uterine cramps

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing common allergy symptoms, see your physician for a professional diagnosis. In more severe cases, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency medical facility. Should the need arise, allergy sufferers with epinephrine auto-injectors can self-administer a medication to counter an anaphylactic reaction. 

What Triggers Eye Allergies?

The root cause of eye allergies is similar to that of other types of allergies: the hypersensitivity of the body’s immune system to certain “invading” or “foreign” elements. This overreaction results in antibody production, leading to repeat episodes in future contact with the allergen.

There are numerous allergens in both indoor and outdoor environments. Major examples include:

  • Plant pollens, especially from ragweed, grasses, and trees
  • Pet dander
  • Mold
  • Smoke
  • Dust
  • Perfumes

Another leading contributor is irritation from wearing contact lenses.

How Do I Know If I Have an Eye Allergy?

Allergy or allergy-like symptoms, especially those of the eyes and upper respiratory system, are common, and may result from a number of medical conditions. You will need to see your physician for a proper evaluation. He or she may take the following steps to diagnose your case:

  • Conduct a physical examination
  • Document your symptoms and family medical history
  • Administer a radioallergosorbent, or RAST, test to identify your allergen or allergens
  • Conduct a skin-prick test
  • Administer an IgE antibody test

The skin-prick test involves injecting tiny amounts of potential irritants under your skin to look for evidence of an allergic response (e.g., swelling, itching, or redness). The IgE antibody test indicates past contact with an allergen. 

Eye Allergy Treatments

Allergies are managed rather than cured. Mild symptoms can be controlled with over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants. Other treatment options include:

  • Artificial tears: Eye drops provide temporary relief by flushing allergens from the eye.
  • Mast-cell stabilizers: Mast-cell stabilizers limit the production of histamines, the body’s symptom-causing response to the presence of allergens.
  • Corticosteroids: Steroidal eyedrops can reduce itching, swelling, and redness of the conjunctiva.
  • Subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots): Immunotherapy offers long-term relief of allergies and allergy symptoms.

Anaphylaxis is treated with epinephrine (also called adrenaline). Pre-loaded epinephrine auto-injectors are available by prescription. At-risk allergy sufferers should be aware of the early signs of anaphylaxis and carry one or more epinephrine auto-injectors at all times.

 How to Prevent Allergic Reactions in the Eye

Of course, the best way to cope with allergies is to avoid allergens altogether. Here are some steps you can take to prevent an allergic reaction. If you are:

  • Allergic to pollen: Avoid going outside when pollen counts are high. Close your windows and run the air conditioner. Make sure you change your HVAC filters regularly. If you do go outside, wearing eyeglasses or sunglasses can reduce the amount of pollen that gets into your eyes.
  • Allergic to pets: Keep your pets out of your bedroom to the extent you can. To reduce the buildup of pet dander, eliminate carpet from floors where possible. Wash your hands after contact with animals, and ensure proper filters are in place throughout your HVAC system.
  • Allergic to mold: Maintain humidity levels of 30 to 50 percent throughout your home. This can be accomplished by placing dehumidifiers in high-humidity zones such as the basement and in stairwells.
  • Allergic to smoke: Maintain a strict no-smoking policy in your home.
  • Allergic to dust: Avoid contact with dust mites. Wash sheets and pillow cases regularly in hot water and use allergen-reducing covers for bedding, where possible.
  • Allergic to perfume: Avoid contact with perfumes, colognes, and items that contain them. Purchase only scent-free washing and cleaning products.

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