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  • Writer's pictureDr. Zimski

Allergies and Eyes

Side by side of eye allergies

Do itchy, watery eyes have you down?

It’s been a terrible allergy season this year in Colorado.  As an ophthalmologist, I’ve been seeing a lot of patients with red, itchy, watery eyes.  Whether it's seasonal pollen, pet dander, or dust mites, allergies can wreak havoc on the delicate tissues of the eye, leading to itching (particularly in the corner) and grittiness (feeling like there is sand in your eyes). Fortunately, there are effective treatment options, and many of them are over-the-counter.  

When your eyes come into contact with allergens such as pollen, pet dander, mold, or dust mites, your immune system may overreact, triggering the release of histamines and other chemicals. This immune response leads to the classic symptoms of eye allergies, including itching, redness, swelling, and tearing.

Eye Allergies Treatment Options:

1. Avoidance: The first line of defense against allergies is to minimize your exposure to allergens. While it's impossible to completely avoid allergens, especially outdoor ones like pollen, you can take steps to reduce your contact with them. Keep windows closed during high pollen seasons, use air purifiers indoors, and avoid rubbing your eyes, which can exacerbate symptoms.

Man taking eye drops

2. Antihistamine Eye Drops: Antihistamine eye drops work by blocking the action of histamines, while mast cell stabilizers prevent the release of histamines in the first place. Effective over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops include Lastacaft, Zaditor and Pataday.  Typically, they relieve itching immediately and can be used as needed.

3. Oral Antihistamines: In addition to eye drops, oral antihistamines can help alleviate systemic allergy symptoms, including those affecting the eyes. However, oral antihistamines can cause dry eyes as a side effect, and typically are not as quick or effective at relieving itchy eyes as antihistamine eye drops.  I recommend them when patients are also having other allergy symptoms such as sneezing, congestion or postnasal drip.  

4. Cold Compresses: Applying a cold compress to your eyes can help soothe inflammation and reduce itching and swelling. Simply soak a clean cloth in cold water, wring out excess moisture, and place it over your closed eyes for 5-10 minutes. Repeat as needed throughout the day for relief.

5. Corticosteroid eye drops: In more severe cases when over-the-counter treatments are not enough, an ophthalmologist may prescribe corticosteroid eye drops or immunomodulators to control inflammation and immune responses. These medications are prescription and need to be monitored.

6. Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy): For individuals with severe, persistent allergies, I often refer patients to an allergist. Immunotherapy involves gradually exposing your immune system to small doses of allergens, helping it build tolerance over time. While allergy shots can be effective in reducing allergy symptoms, they require a significant time commitment.  

Eye allergies (allergic conjunctivitis) can be uncomfortable, but there are many effective treatment options. By understanding your triggers and implementing a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your specific needs, you can effectively manage and alleviate symptoms. If you're struggling, don't hesitate to reach out to your ophthalmologist for guidance and support. Together, we can help you see the world more clearly, one allergy-free day at a time.

If you're experiencing bothersome eye allergies, Dr. Lauren Zimski is a trusted Denver-area doctor you can depend on for customized treatment plans. 

Schedule an appointment online or call 303-863-1231. First, take a few minutes to fill out our SPEED questionnaire and we’ll get in touch.


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