Approximately 20-40% of the population suffers from eye allergies.  

*According to Allergic Conjunctivitis, Shad Baab; Patrick H. Le; Eilene E. Kinzer

What Are Eye Allergies? 

Eye allergies are an allergic response to allergens that travel through the air and then come into contact with the eye.

Another term for eye allergies is allergic conjunctivitis.  Allergic conjunctivitis can occur alongside allergic rhinitis (allergic reactions in the nose and upper airway), and together they are often referred to as “hay fever,” or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.

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Triggers

Similar to allergic rhinitis, allergy triggers for allergic conjunctivitis can include pollen, dust, animal, and mold.

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Complications

Complications are rare for routine allergic conjunctivitis, but there are some uncommon allergic eye diseases (allergic keratoconjunctivitis and vernal keratoconjunctivitis) that are more serious and should be evaluated by an allergy or eye specialist.

What Are the Symptoms of Eye Allergies? 

Eye allergy symptoms typically involve both eyes and include:

  • Red or pink eyes
  • Itchy or Burning eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen of puffy eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Dark circles under your eyes

*Note: that eye pain is NOT a feature of eye allergies and should be evaluated by your primary care provider or an eye doctor as a potentially more serious condition.

What Is the Difference between “Pink Eye” and Allergies?

The term “conjunctivitis” refers to a condition that causes the thin layer of tissue covering the white front of the eye to become red and swollen.

Many people call conjunctivitis “pink eye.”  Pink eye can be brought on by a number of possible triggers.  The most common triggers include allergies and infections, like those caused by bacteria and viruses.

Visit an allergy specialist if you’re unsure if you have pink eye from allergies.

What Causes EYE Allergies?

Bee icon to illustrate pollen allergen
Pollen
Dust mite icon to illustrate dust allergen
Dust Mites

(contained in dust)

Pet icon to illustrate pet dander allergen
Pet Dander
Icon of a mold spore
Mold

*Note: Eye allergies can also be triggered by chemicals in contact solution, perfumes, cosmetics or drugs.

Diagnosing Eye Allergies

One of our allergy experts will be able to diagnose your eye allergies and talk to you about any other allergy symptoms you might be having. 

When you meet your allergist, be prepared to talk about the following:

  • Symptoms of eye allergies
  • Related allergy symptoms
  • Family history of eye allergies or other allergies
  • Exposure to eye irritants or eye allergy triggers (mentioned above)

Tests for Eye Allergies

An allergy specialist will evaluate you for possible eye allergies using the following: 

Treating Eye Allergies

At-home treatments to ease eye allergies and limit exposure to eye allergens include:

  • Cold compresses
  • Over-the-counter artificial tears 
  • Wearing sunglasses/eye protection
  • Staying indoors
  • Washing your face after being outdoors or exposed to allergens you are sensitized to
  • Keeping the windows of your home and car closed
  • Avoid wearing eye make-up
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes
  • Keep contact lenses and cases clean and change contact solution daily

Allergy Eye Drops 

  • Allergy eye drops are often used to treat allergic conjunctivitis, and they are available both over-the-counter (OTC) and by prescription.  
  • The best eye drops for eye allergies include drops that contain an antihistamine with mast cell stabilizer properties and/or a mast cell stabilizer.  
  • It is best to avoid allergy eye drops that contain a vasoconstrictor medication, as they can result in a “rebound” of symptoms once the medication is stopped.  
  • If using an eye drop that contains a vasoconstrictor, use for only 1-2 weeks consecutively or sporadically.  
  • Steroid eye drops are rarely used for allergic conjunctivitis and are usually only prescribed by an eye specialist.
  • Refrigerating eye drops or using artificial tears 3-5 minutes before using the allergy eye drops can help provide cooling relief.  
  • Frequent blinking after using the drops can actually wash the medication off the eye surface more quickly, so try to avoid this.  
  • Therapies for eye allergies in young children are similar to those for adults.  Most allergy eye drops are approved down to 2 years of age.  
Doctor giving a young man an allergy shot

Medications & Allergy Shots

Allergy medications used for allergic rhinitis, like oral antihistamines and nasal steroids, can sometimes be effective for eye allergies.  

However, if the primary allergy symptoms involve the eye (vs nose/sinuses), allergy eye drops are most likely to provide the best relief.  

Note also that immunotherapy (allergy shots) is also known to provide benefit for both allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis.  

For more information on immunotherapy as a possible treatment for your allergic conjunctivitis, consult with an allergy specialist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can allergies cause eye twitching?

Can allergies cause green eye fluid?

Can eye allergies cause blurred vision?

Can allergies make your eyes goopy?