Causes of Itchy Allergy Eyes and How to Treat Them

Apr 15, 2022 | General Eyecare

VisionQuest Child Patients

Spring is a beautiful time of the year in the Midwest – grasses turn green, leaves sprout from trees and flowers bloom.

For allergy sufferers, though, a trip outside to view nature’s awakening from a long winter’s nap can be annoying. The sneezing and watering eyes can make you miserable during a stroll along your favorite hiking path or sitting on your patio.

Here are some facts to help you understand what is going on and what you can do about it – from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

What Causes Eye Allergies

An allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts to an allergen that is normally harmless. When an allergen comes in contact with your eye, certain cells within your eye (called mast cells) release histamine and other substances to fight off the allergen. This reaction causes your eyes to become red, itchy and watery.

Allergens, like pollen from grass, trees and ragweed 

Allergens in the air — both indoors and out — cause many eye allergies. These allergens include:

  • pollen from grass, trees and ragweed
  • dust
  • pet dander
  • mold
  • smoke

The human factor

Allergic reactions to perfume, cosmetics or drugs can also cause the eyes to have an allergic response. Some people may be allergic to the preservative chemicals in lubricating eye drops or prescribed eye drops. They should use preservative-free drops instead if possible.

Sometimes, the eyes can react to other allergens that don’t necessarily come in direct contact with the eye. These can include specific foods or insect bites or stings.

Some people inherit eye allergies from their parents. You’re more likely to have allergies if both of your parents have them than if only one does.

The Symptoms

The most common eye allergy symptoms include:

  • red, swollen or itchy eyes
  • burning or tearing of the eyes
  • sensitivity to light

If accompanied by nasal allergies, you may also have a stuffy, itchy nose and sneezing. You can also have a headache, an itchy or sore throat or coughing.

How Eye Allergies Treated

Avoid the issue

The key to treating eye allergies is to avoid or limit contact with the substance causing the problem. But you have to know what to avoid. If necessary, an allergist can perform a skin or blood test to help identify the specific allergen(s).

Artificial tears

Artificial tear drops help relieve eye allergies temporarily by washing allergens from the eye. They also relieve dry, irritated eyes by adding moisture. You can use these drops, available without a prescription, up to six times a day. You may use them as often as you need to if they are preservative-free.

Decongestants (with or without antihistamines)

Decongestants reduce redness in the eyes from allergies. They are available as over-the-counter eye drops. If the decongestant eye drops you choose include an antihistamine, they can relieve itchiness as well. You should not use these types of eye drops for more than two to three days. Longer-term use actually increases your irritating symptoms.

Oral antihistamines

Oral antihistamines may be somewhat helpful in relieving itchy eyes. But they can make eyes dry and even worsen eye allergy symptoms.

Antihistamine/mast-cell stabilizers

Eye drops with both an antihistamine to relieve itchiness and a mast-cell stabilizer help prevent eye allergies. You use them once or twice a day to relieve itching, redness, tearing and burning. How often you use them depends on which eye drops you choose.


Steroid eye drops can help treat chronic and severe eye allergy symptoms such as itching, redness and swelling. They should never be used without medical supervision due to possible serious side effects.

Immunotherapy shots

If symptoms are not controlled by allergen avoidance, eye drops or medicine, immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be an option. With immunotherapy, you get shots containing tiny amounts of the allergen. The dose gradually increases over time to help your body become immune to the allergens.

If itchy eyes are disrupting your outdoor fun (or event while indoors), schedule an appointment with VisionQuest. We can help treat the symptoms and work with your allergist on a more long-term solution.