When Allergies Get to Your Eyes

Burning, stinging, or tearing in your eyes may be signs of eye allergies. Learn what can trigger this problem and how it can be treated.

By Louis Neipris, MD, Contributing Writer

You were mowing the lawn about 15 minutes ago. Now your eyes are watery, itchy, and red. It could be eye allergies - 1 in 5 Americans has this problem.

Eye allergies are also known as allergic conjunctivitis. The condition comes from inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the inside of the eyelids and the eye. You get symptoms when your body's immune system overreacts to an allergen.

About 80 to 90 percent of all eye allergies are due to seasonal allergens, like pollen or grasses. Doctors are also seeing more cases related to medications and contact lens wear.

If you think you have allergies, the first step is to visit your health care provider to get diagnosed. Your doctor may refer you to an allergy specialist. Skin tests can detect your allergic triggers. Tests are usually done in an allergist's office and you'll often know the results within 20 minutes. In more serious cases, the allergist may:

Common triggers of eye allergies are:

Signs of an eye allergy
Allergens cause cells in the eye to release histamine and other chemicals. This makes blood vessels in the eyes swell. Other symptoms may include:

You may also have nasal symptoms, such as a runny or itchy nose, congestion, or headache. Hay fever, sinusitis, asthma, or eczema may occur at the same time, too. People with year-round eye allergies may have more problems during allergy seasons.

Managing an eye allergy
Your doctor will work up a treatment plan based on your allergy test results. A plan usually starts with tips to avoid and control your contact with allergens.

For outdoor allergens:

For indoor allergens:

It is also a good idea to avoid smoke, perfume, and exhaust fumes. They are not allergens, but these irritants may make symptoms worse.

These self-care measures may also give some relief:

Medical treatment
Medical treatments are also available for eye allergies. Your doctor may suggest one of these over-the-counter or prescription eye drops:

Applied directly to the eye, these medications help stop the release of chemicals that cause symptoms. But some of these drugs may not be suggested for long-term use.

Your doctor may also recommend:

If you have eye allergies that do not respond to these treatments, you may be a candidate for allergy shots. This therapy can help your body build up tolerance to substances that are sensitive to your body.