Allergy Treatments

Dry, Itchy Eyes? Meet Allergy Eye Drops

Picnic's prescription eye drops in front of a blue and white background.

What do you think of when you imagine allergy symptoms?

Of course, there’s the relentless runny nose and the constant sneezing. But there’s another big one that rounds out the fun of your seasonal allergies: red, itchy, watery eyes.

Yep, you know your seasonal or perennial allergies (a fancy word for year-round allergies) are flaring up when you can’t stop rubbing at your eyeballs and you feel like your eyelids are made out of sandpaper.

Fortunately, there are some treatments you can use to get some much-needed relief, and eye drops are definitely one you’ll want to look into. While we get that putting something this close to your eyes make you feel a little squeamish, they’re incredibly effective at soothing that itch.

But before we get into all of that, let’s talk about how you can tell if you’re actually dealing with allergies and where those pesky symptoms are coming from.

What do eye allergy symptoms feel like?

Itching is the most common eye-related allergy symptom. You might also experience stinging, burning, and excessive tearing.

In terms of appearance, the white part of your eye will be red and irritated and you might even notice some swelling around your eyelids and under eye area.

What causes eye allergies?

Allergies happen when your body overreacts to a foreign substance (those known as allergens). In the case of seasonal allergies, you’re having an allergic reaction to something in the outdoors, such as pollen, grasses, ragweed, or mold spores.

That allergen interacts with your body’s mast cells, and then those cells release histamine. Histamine is the pesky chemical that causes all of those uncomfortable allergy symptoms—including your watery, itchy eyes.

While allergies (seasonal or perennial) are a common explanation for why your eyes feel like you’ve dumped salt in them, they aren’t the only culprit. Things like infections (like pink eye), chronically dry eyes, chemical irritants (like chlorine or makeup), and irritants in the air (like cigarette smoke) can also cause similar symptoms.

So how can you tell if it’s your allergies or something else? If you’re also experiencing symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, and coughing, then it’s probably an allergy flare-up.

How do you treat eye allergies?

You’re so tired of these symptoms that you’re debating taping your hands together so you stop scratching at your eyes. Rest assured, there’s a better way to deal with your symptoms.

The best ways include:

  • Eye drops for maximum relief
  • Eye wash or artificial tears to wash out irritants and add moisture to dry eyes
  • A damp, cold washcloth taken straight from the freezer
  • Avoiding touching your eyes (we know, easier said than done)
  • Washing your hands when you come inside (which is always a good idea)

What are the different types of allergy eye drops?

As we mentioned above, the best way to relieve eye symptoms are unsurprisingly eye drops. They generally fall into two categories: over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription.

Within those buckets, eye drops can either be decongestants, antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers (which prevent your mast cells from releasing histamine in the first place), corticosteroids, or a combination of an antihistamine, mast cell stabilizer, or decongestant.

Common allergy eye drop options include:

  • Ketotifen (generic Zaditor®): Antihistamine/mast cell stabilizer, OTC
  • Azelastine (generic Optivar®): Antihistamine, prescription
  • Naphazoline/Pheniramine (generic Naphcon-A® or Opcon-A®): Antihistamine/decongestant, OTC

If you aren’t sure which one is right for you, Picnic can help. Tell us about the symptoms and seasons that irritate your eyes the most, along with a little about your treatment history, and we'll get you the personalized Allergy Pack and ongoing care you need to soothe those itchy, watery eyes.

When and how often should you use allergy eye drops?

The specific instructions will depend on what type you’re using. Read the package directions (which we know isn’t easy when your eyes are burning) and follow them carefully.

In most cases, you’ll put a single drop in each eye anywhere from two to six times per day. You’ll start the eye drops in the morning, and then most likely continue throughout the day as directed.

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How do you use eye drops?

Any time you’re going to have your fingers near your eyes, you want to have clean hands. So, start by washing your hands thoroughly.

Remove the cap from the bottle and, when you’re ready, tilt your head back, lightly pull your lower lid away from your eye, and administer one drop of the medication from the eyedropper into your eye.

It’s smart to keep your eye closed for about a minute to make sure all of the medication stays put and does its job. If you’re supposed to use more than one drop (remember to read the directions!), then you’ll repeat that process. When you’re done, put the cap back on the bottle and wash your hands again.

If you wear contact lenses, wait at least 15 minutes after administering the eye drops to put your contacts in.

How long will it take eye drops to start working?

You want relief, and you want it now. The good news is that allergy eye drops work pretty quickly—but exactly how quickly will depend on which ones you’re taking. Most will provide relief within minutes.

Your eyes deserve allergy relief too

When it comes to allergy symptoms, we’ll figure out ways to deal with our runny noses or constant sneezing. Yet we assume that itchy, watery, and red eyes are just something we need to suffer through.

You don’t need to resign yourself to sitting on your hands so you don’t rub at your eyes. That’s where allergy eye drops come in. They’ll help you say goodbye to sandpaper eyelids, and hello to sweet, sweet relief.

ARTICLE REVIEWED BYAmina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPHPicnic Medical Director
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