What to do when your eyes are red from allergies

Allergy means that the immune system overreacts to something to which it has become sensitive. Symptoms of increased immune activity in the eyes include redness, wateriness and itching. These are part of the body’s defence mechanism to things it sees as foreign and harmful.

What to do when your eyes are red from allergies

Causes include the following:

Perennial conjunctivitis

This is a conjunctivitis that persists throughout the year (perennial means through the year). This is most commonly due to an allergy to home dust mite. Home dust mite is a tiny insect-like creature that lives in every home.

What to do when your eyes are red from allergies

It mainly lives in bedrooms, carpets and mattresses, as part of the dust. People with perennial conjunctivitis generally also own perennial allergic rhinitis (this causes symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose). Symptoms tend to be worse each morning when you first wake.

Giant papillary conjunctivitis

This is unusual. It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva lining the upper eyelid. It occurs in some people who own a little object on the eye — most commonly, a contact lens.

It affects about 1 in 100 wearers of contact lenses. The exact cause of the inflammation is unclear — it is possibly an allergic reaction to debris caught behind a lens or to poor lens hygiene (not being careful enough with managing your lenses). It also sometimes develops after eye surgery.

Seasonal conjunctivitis due to pollens and moulds

Seasonal conjunctivitis occurs at the same time each year. Most cases are due to pollen and happen in the hay fever season. Symptoms tend to final a few weeks each year and may vary with the pollen count.

What to do when your eyes are red from allergies

This is a measure of the quantity of pollen in the air each day. The pollen count is often published in the press and in online weather forecasts.

Different people are sensitive to diverse groups of pollens. Grass pollens tend to cause symptoms in early summer, generally from April through to July in the UK.

What to do when your eyes are red from allergies

Tree pollens may cause symptoms as early as February or March or as tardy as September, depending on when the tree species involved shed their pollen. Various other pollens and moulds cause symptoms later in the summer.

If you own seasonal conjunctivitis you may also own other symptoms of hay fever, such as a runny nose and sore throat.

Allergies to animals

Coming into contact with some animals can cause allergic conjunctivitis. This is generally due to allergy to fur or hair.

Contact conjunctivitis

Some people become sensitised to cosmetics, make-up, eye drops or other chemicals that come into contact with the conjunctiva.

What to do when your eyes are red from allergies

This then causes an allergic response and symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. In this condition the skin on the eyelids may also become inflamed.

What to do when your eyes are red from allergies

It is then called contact dermatoconjunctivitis.

Eye allergy relief

To get relief from your eye allergies and itchy, watery eyes, you can take a few approaches:

Remove your contacts

Because the surface of contact lenses can attract and accumulate airborne allergens, consider wearing glasses instead of contacts during allergy season. Or consider switching to daily disposable contacts that you discard after a single use to avoid the buildup of allergens and other debris on your lenses.

Often, the best choice if allergies are bothering your eyes is to discontinue wearing contacts altogether — at least until every your allergy symptoms are gone.

Also, wearing eyeglasses with photochromic lenses can reduce allergy-related sensitivity to light and can assist shield your eyes from airborne allergens.


Part of the body's natural allergic response is the release of histamine, a substance that dilates blood vessels and making the walls of blood vessels abnormally permeable.

Symptoms caused by histamine include a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.

Antihistamines reduce allergic reactions by blocking the attachment of histamine to cells in the body that produce an allergic response.

Avoid allergens

The best approach to controlling your eye allergy symptoms is to do everything you can to limit your exposure to common allergens that you know you are sensitive to.

For example, on days when the pollen count is high, stay indoors as much as possible, with the air conditioner running to filter the air. Use high quality furnace filters that can trap common allergens and replace the filters frequently.

When you do go outdoors during allergy season, wear wraparound sunglasses to assist shield your eyes from pollen, ragweed, etc., and drive with your windows closed.

Use eye drops

Because eye allergies are so common, there are numerous brands of non-prescription eye drops available that are formulated to relieve itchiness, redness and watery eyes caused by allergies.

If your eye allergy symptoms are relatively mild, non-prescription eye drops for allergy relief may work extremely well for you and may be less expensive than prescription eye drops or other medication.

Enquire your eye doctor to recommend a brand to try.

Ask about prescription medications

If your allergy symptoms are relatively severe or over-the-counter eye drops are ineffective at providing relief, you may need your eye doctor to prescribe a stronger medication.

Prescription eye drops and oral medications used to relieve eye allergies include:


What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis means inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin ‘skin’ that covers the white part of the eyes and the inside of the eyelids. It is made up of layers of specially adapted see-through (transparent) cells.

Eye allergies: Get relief from itchy, watery eyes

By Gary Heiting, OD

Eye allergies — red, itchy, watery eyes that are bothered by the same irritants that cause sneezing and a runny nose among seasonal allergy sufferers — are extremely common.

In addition to having symptoms of sneezing, congestion and a runny nose, most of these allergy sufferers also experience itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes and swollen eyelids.

In some cases, eye allergies also can frolic a role in conjunctivitis (pink eye) and other eye infections.

If you ponder you own eye allergies, here are a few things you should know — including helpful tips on how to get relief from your red, itchy, watery eyes.

What causes conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is generally due to allergy, infection or irritation of the conjunctiva.

Allergy is a extremely common cause.

Infection is the most common cause and, in addition to itch, redness and grittiness, there is generally a sticky discharge.

Numerous germs (bacteria and viruses) can cause conjunctivitis.

What to do when your eyes are red from allergies

See separate leaflet called Infective Conjunctivitis for more details.

Irritant conjunctivitis is something most of us own experienced occasionally. For example, your conjunctiva may become red and inflamed after getting shampoo in your eyes, or after you rub your eyes when chopping chillies. The chlorine in swimming baths is another common cause. Also, in the days when smoking was allowed in bars, numerous people developed irritant conjunctivitis from cigarette smoke.

This relax of this leaflet is about conjunctivitis caused by an allergy.

What are the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis?

  1. The skin on the inside of the eyelids looks red and sore.
  2. Vision is not affected.
  3. The eyes are generally itchy and gritty.
  4. A burning feeling may happen, although the eyes are not generally painful.
  5. Both eyes are generally affected and symptoms tend to develop quickly.
  6. The eyes water more than usual; however, they do not become too gluey or sticky.
  7. The whites of the eyes glance red or pink.
  8. The eyelids tend to swell.
  9. In severe cases the conjunctiva under the upper eyelids may swell and glance lumpy.

What causes eye allergies

Common allergens include pollen, animal dander and mold.

Eye allergies also can be caused by reactions to certain cosmetics or eye drops, including artificial tears used for treating dry eyes that contain preservatives.

Food allergies and allergic reactions to bee stings or other insect bites typically do not affect the eyes as severely as airborne allergens do.