Sometimes, your seasonal allergies are pretty well under control—you’re taking your meds regularly and you’re not sneezing up a storm. But your eyes are still itchy and red. Other times, you seem to have no symptoms of seasonal allergies at all—no feeling fuzzy, no stuffed or runny nose—yet your eyes get super itchy and red when you’ve been outdoors. Maybe they tear up or get watery, too.
And in other cases, eye allergies aren’t related to seasonal allergies at all. Allergic conjunctivitis, as doctors call it, can occur at any time of year, sometimes due to dust mites or animal dander.
Many allergy sufferers find that taking their oral meds or nasal steroid spray controls the eye symptoms. But sometimes they don’t, and eye drops might help. One of the benefits of eye drops for allergic eye symptoms is that “they have a quick onset of action,” explains Courtney Jackson Blair, M.D., vice president of the Greater Washington Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Society and owner of Allergy and Asthma Associates in Virginia. So you feel relief—and stop rubbing your eyes—without too much delay.
There are many allergy eye drops at the drugstore and available by prescription. Here’s how to navigate the options.
Over-The-Counter Allergy Eye Drops
On the shelf at your drugstore, you’ll generally find two types of products: Those containing ketotifen, and those containing a combination of drugs called pheniramine maleate and naphazoline hydrochloride. It’s a mouthful, but here’s what to know about each, plus what to know about prescription eye drops:
Eye drops containing ketotifen
This drug is an antihistamine, meaning it blocks symptoms by blocking receptors for histamine, a chemical that you make during an allergic reaction which causes those familiar allergy symptoms. It’s also what’s called a mast cell stabilizer, which means it blocks chemicals including histamine from being produced in the first place.
Find them in products including: Zaditor, Alaway, and Eye Itch Relief by Rite Aid.
Eye drops containing pheniramine maleate and naphazoline hydrochloride
We’re not expecting you to remember those names, so bookmark this page when you go to the drugstore so you can match them to the products on the shelf that contain them. This is a combination antihistamine (pheniramine maleate) and decongestant (naphazoline hydrochloride).
The only challenge with decongestants, which act as redness reducers, is that “sometimes the redness reducer will cause a rebound effect,” says Dr. Jackson Blair. “The redness can come back worse than it was before.” Also, eye drops with a decongestant can increase eye pressure, so patients with glaucoma should avoid this group of eye drops.
Find these drugs in: Naphcon A, Visine Allergy Eye Relief Multi-Action, and Walgreen’s Eye Allergy Relief.
Prescription allergy eye drops
There are a whole host of options in prescription eye drops, from mast cell inhibitors to antihistamines of different types. If your eyes aren’t easily soothed by over-the-counter problems, it’s worth seeing an allergist. One of the many reasons—not just so you get the right drops—is that they can help you figure out what specifically is causing the reaction and you can try to reduce your exposure to it. Finally, in limited instances, a prescription steroid (such as Alrex or Lotemax) may be used for more severe symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. Steroids however, should be used cautiously as they can also increase the risk for glaucoma and cataracts. If used for more than a week it is advisable to also have an optometrist or ophthalmologist assist in the management, explains Kirk Waibel, M.D., former Allergy Consultant to the Army Surgeon General, now at Aspire Allergy & Sinus in San Antonio, TX.
Tips for using allergy eye drops
Use these tips from Dr. Waibel to get the most from the allergy eye drops you use:
In addition to taking drops, washing your eyes with cold water or using a cold washcloth after time outdoors can also help reduce itchy, watery allergy eye symptoms.
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