Eye Allergies

Eye Health

By Dr S.S. Gill

Eye allergies can be annoying to a person. When the eyes are exposed to allergens (substances that trigger allergies), then they may become itchy, red and swollen. Eye allergies are often referred to as allergic conjunctivitis. This is not dangerous but can be very distressing to an individual.

Eye allergies may be triggered off by a variety allergens:

  1. Dust and animal fur: This is very common and is often associated with allergies to the nose and skin too. The condition may be long standing and recurrent, occurring throughout the year.
  2. Pollen: This is usually seasonal and often occurs during a particular time of the year. The condition is sometimes referred to as seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.
  3. Medications, eye drops and chemicals: This occurs when the eyes are exposed to any of these. This sometimes poses a problem as a person may be allergic to the preservatives used in an eye-drop bottle. Most eye drops will contain a preservative including eye drops used to treat allergies.
  4. Contact lens related allergies. This is called Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC) and is usually due to longstanding contact lens wear. This mainly occurs in non-disposable contact lenses.


The symptoms of eye allergies include the following:

  • Itchiness and/or burning sensation.
  • Redness of the eyes.
  • Swollen puffy eyelids (often both eyes)
  • Lacrimation or excessive tearing.
  • Photophobia or sensitivity to bright lights.
  • Sometimes itchy, red, scaly eyelids.

These symptoms may or may not occur alongside nasal allergy symptoms of sneezing and runny nose. Sometimes symptoms of allergy may mimic the appearance of an eye infection but one thing that often stands out is the presence of eye itchiness. Do note that some eye drops including medication used to treat dry eyes can also cause allergies too.


Eye allergies as with any other allergies may occur along with skin allergies (atopic dermatitis), asthma, nasal allergies and sinusitis (hay fever). Watch out for these symptoms and highlight them to your doctor.


Rubbing the eyes may be your first reaction but do take every effort to stop yourself the moment you start. Rubbing the eyes will only worsen the condition because it stimulates the tissues of the eyes to release more chemicals (histamine from the mast cells).

If you have identified an allergen (substance that triggers the allergy), then removing the offending agent is essential. If you are certain that you are suffering from an ocular allergy and not any other eye problems, then OTC (over the counter) antihistamines may be taken. This will often relieve the symptoms. However, if you are unsure that you suffer from eye allergies or if your symptoms are prolonged, then always seek professional medical help.

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