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Are your allergies affecting your eyes?

If you’re among the 20 million South Africans who suffer from allergies, you’ll know all about the typical symptoms that come with allergy season: sneezing, runny nose, coughing, eczema, and watery eyes.

Allergies can impact your eyes considerably, with symptoms such as redness, swelling and itching being common. In some people – especially in children – allergies may trigger other eye conditions such as dark circles under the eyes, eyelid redness or swelling, astigmatism or droopy eyelids.

Let’s look at what causes eye-related symptoms and what you can do to cope better with how allergies affect your eyes.

Common causes of eye-related allergic reactions

Eye symptoms from allergies are usually seasonal, but they can happen all year round. When you have allergies, your body’s immune system overreacts to allergens like pollen, pollution, dust, or pet dander. This causes an inflammatory response that can cause symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes. You can also have allergic reactions to other things like

  • Dust mites
  • Ingredients in perfumes and cosmetics
  • Latex
  • Smoking cigarettes or marijuana, which can also cause conjunctivitis
  • Air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide or sulfuric acid fumes from factories
  • Wearing contact lenses for a long time without cleaning them properly
  • Using expired or unsuitable eye drops
  • Rubbing your eyes excessively

Common symptoms of eye allergies can occur in one or both eyes

For most people, seasonal allergies can cause eye redness or itching that may seem like an ordinary irritation but does not affect their ability to see clearly. You might notice that your eyes tear up easily or get dry easily when you’re exposed to allergens. Seasonal eye allergies usually don’t cause any permanent vision damage, but you may experience temporary blurriness.

The most common symptoms include redness or itching of the eyes (allergic conjunctivitis), watery eyes that make it hard to see (epiphora) and discharge from the corners of your eyes. If you have these problems more than once a year, talk to your eye doctor. Some infections and eye conditions that require medical treatment can cause the same symptoms.


How long do eye allergies last?

Symptoms typically start when you’re around the allergen – and will continue until the allergen is no longer around to trigger your body’s response to it. If you know the cause of your eye allergy symptoms, try to avoid it. Your symptoms should dissipate and not return provided there is no contact with the trigger.  

Here’s the bad news!

When your eye allergies are caused by seasonal triggers like pollen, it’s almost impossible to avoid and you can expect your eye allergies to continue throughout the pollen season, which lasts anywhere between four to eight weeks.

Things you can do to ease eye allergies

Allergies can be treated in a variety of ways, including lifestyle changes such as changing your makeup or staying away from pets, if that’s what’s causing your allergic reactions. But that isn’t always possible.

To get relief from eye-related allergies, you can try the same antihistamine medicines that you use for nasal allergies. Antihistamine medicines work by blocking histamine to relieve watery and itchy eyes. 

Eye drops can also help. Antihistamine eye drops are effective for easing red, itchy, and watery eyes. You may need to use them several times a day, but don’t use the over-the-counter types for more than three days. Prescription eye drops from your optometrist are a much better choice.

Ways to reduce eye allergy symptoms

As we have said, the first thing to do is to avoid your triggers. You could also

  • Stay indoors when it is windy outside during pollen season
  • Wear sunglasses when you go outside. They will help block some of the pollen and other outdoor allergens from entering your eyes
  • Rinse your eyes with preservative-free saline water when you have been in contact with an allergen
  • Apply a cold, wet washcloth to your eyes when you feel symptoms
  • Use lubricating eye drops, also known as artificial tears This will moisten dry eyes and wash out allergens
  • Remove your contact lenses
  • Stop rubbing and touching your eyes unnecessarily

Understand your allergies

It’s important to understand your allergies, what’s causing them, and how they affect your daily life so that you can successfully cope with and treat them. If your allergies interfere with your daily activities or sleep schedule, it is best to see your doctor who will be able to identify the cause of your symptoms and recommend the best treatments or medications that will keep them at bay.