March 1, 2014: Itchy, Watery Eyes
With the warm temperatures of spring and new blooming flowers and trees, comes the dreaded
“pollen.” Pollen in the air is responsible for lots of different types of allergic responses including
watery, itchy uncomfortable eyes. Similar to processes that occur with other types of allergic
responses, the eye may overreact to a substance that is perceives as harmful. For example, dust
that is harmless to most people can cause excessive tear production and mucus in eyes of overly
sensitive, allergic individuals.
Common signs of allergies include: red, swollen, tearing or itchy eyes; runny nose; sneezing;
coughing; difficulty breathing; itchy nose, mouth or throat, and headache from sinus congestion.
Many allergens (substances that can evoke an allergic response) are in the air, where they come
in contact with your eyes and nose. Airborne allergens include pollen, mold, dust and pet dander.
Other causes of allergies, such as certain foods or bee stings, do not typically affect the eyes the
way airborne allergens do. Adverse reactions to certain cosmetics or drugs such as antibiotic eye
drops also may cause eye allergies.
The most common “treatment” is to avoid what is causing your eye allergy. If
you are not sure what is causing your eye allergies, or you are unable to avoid them, your next step
will probably be medication to alleviate the symptoms. Overthecounter and prescription
medications each have their advantages. Overthecounter products are often less expensive, while
prescription ones are often stronger and more effective. Eye drops are available as simple eye
washes, or they may have one or more active ingredients such as antihistamines, decongestants or
mast cell stabilizers. Antihistamines relieve many symptoms caused by airborne allergens such as
itchy, watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing. Decongestants clear up redness. They contain
vasoconstrictors, which make the blood vessels in your eyes smaller, lessening the apparent
redness. They treat the symptom, not the cause. In fact, with extended use, the blood vessels can
become dependent on the vasoconstrictor to stay small. When you discontinue the eye drops, the
vessels actually get bigger than they were in the fist place. This process is called rebound
hyperemia, and the result is that your red eyes worsen over time. Some products have ingredients
that act as mast cell stabilizers, which alleviate redness and swelling. Mast cell stabilizers are
similar to antihistamines. But while antihistamines are known for their immediate relief, mast cell
stabilizers are know for their longlasting relief. Other medications used for allergies include non
steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids. In some cases, combinations
of medications may be used.
Eye allergies also affect contact lens wearing ability. Even if you are generally a successful
contact lens wearer, allergy season can make your contacts uncomfortable. Airborne allergens can
get on your lenses, causing discomfort. Allergens can also stimulate the excessive production of
natural substances in your tears that bind to your contacts, adding to your discomfort and allergy
symptoms. Ask your eye doctor about eye drops that can help relieve your symptoms and keep
your contact lenses clean. Certain drops can discolor or damage contact lenses, so ask your doctor
first before trying out a new brand. Another alternative is daily disposable contact lenses, which
are discarded nightly. Because you replace them so frequently, these lenses are unlikely to
develop irritating deposits that can build up over time and cause or heighten allergyrelated