Itchy Eyes

Many times itchy eyes are caused by allergies. See what you may be allergic to and how to find relief.

Itchy eyes are often a symptom of allergies, or Allergic Conjunctivitis. There are two types of allergic conjunctivitis; Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis, which typically happens during the spring and fall and is due to the exposure of certain allergens like grass, pollen, trees and weeds. The other type is Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis and it happens all year long due to the exposure of household allergens like mold, dust, pet dander and pet hair. Other eye diseases such as Blepharitis and Dry Eyes can be associated with itchy eyes, so it’s important if you are experiencing itchy eyes, and don’t suffer from known allergies, to contact your eye care professional immediately to check for other conditions.

Causes of Itchy Eyes

Allergic reactions occur when the surface of your eye is exposed to allergens. The reaction triggers the release of histamines which causes itchy eyes, as well as other symptoms like red and watery eyes. Rubbing your itchy eyes is highly discouraged. As you rub your eyes, you release more and more histamines which results in worse symptoms. Also, you can damage, scratch or cause other trauma to the surface of your eye by rubbing the itch.

Preventive Tips for Itchy Eyes

Take a look at the different tips associated with preventing itchy eyes indoors and outdoors.

Indoors:

  • Vacuum regularly to reduce dust and pet dander and pet hair.
  • Keep your windows shut to reduce outdoor allergens.
  • Keep your pets out of bedrooms or areas you spend a lot of time in.
  • Run your air conditioner to reduce indoor allergens, also keep your air filters and air ducts clean.
  • Avoid smoking, especially in rooms with little or no ventilation.

Outdoors:

  • Watch the news to check the pollen counts. Pollen counts are the highest between 5am and 10am.
  • Dry your clothes in dryer, not outside. Outdoor allergens stick to the fabric of your clothes.
  • Avoid or take precautions before doing yard work. Wear face masks, gloves, etc..
  • Take a shower after being outside to wash away allergens that have clung to your hair and skin.

Treatment & Relief for Itchy Eyes

You can either buy over the counter oral antihistamines such as Claritin, over the counter eye drops with antihistamines and decongestants in them, or you can go see your doctor and have similar medications prescribed. Antihistamines block the release of histamines, which causes the itchy eyes. Decongestants reduce the other symptoms like redness, burning and irritation, which contribute to itchy eyes. Some oral antihistamines can result in other conditions such as drowsiness, irritability and dryness and take up to an hour to begin working. It’s best to take these precautions ahead of time. Talk with your doctor about choosing the best eye drops for you that may be found over the counter.

Most over the counter eye drops are good for 4-6 hours, and relieve the itch almost immediately without any side effects. There is a new OTC eye drop, Zaditor that relieves symptoms for up to 12 hours with only one dose, and it’s even proven to work in children of the age of 3. Unlike other over the counter eye drops, Zaditor contains both antihistamines and decongestants. In some severe cases you can talk to your doctor about using steroid eye drops to relieve the pain.

If you go see your doctor for relief of itchy eyes, try using Allegra or Zyrtec. Not only do they relieve the itch, they also relieve the puffiness, irriation, redness and dryness of allergy eyes. Plus, they begin working within 15-30 minutes and rarely cause side effects such as drowsiness. Prescribed oral antihistamines can be a life saver, especially if you suffer from seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. Taken ahead of time, they can last 12-24 hours without the need of more. If your itchy eyes persist, you can also talk to your doctor about prescribing eye drops.

References:
  • J. Weizer, MD; J. Stein, MD, MS “Reader’s Digest Guide to Eye Care” (Quantum Publishing, Ltd. 2009) 108-111
  • J. DiGirolamo, MD “The Big Book of Family Eye Care” (Basic Health Publications, 2011) 179
This article was last updated on 07/2013