How do allergies affect the eyes?

By: Contributors

Your eyes are affected by allergies in much the same way as the rest of you is affected by allergies. Your conjunctiva is the mucous membrane that lines your eyes; when an allergen comes in contact with it, your immune system kicks in. Instead of just letting it go, your body produces antibodies to fight off what it perceives to be an invading substance. The antibodies trigger chemicals, including histamine, which cause allergic symptoms. These symptoms can affect your eyes in the form of itching, burning and tearing; your eyes can also turn red or become puffy.

These allergic eye symptoms are collectively called allergic conjunctivitis, or ocular allergies. Even though the names sound intimidating, eye allergies can't cause any long-term damage to your eyes: You won't go blind. You may suffer short-term blurriness if the symptoms are bad. Most often, allergic conjunctivitis affects allergy sufferers in conjunction with nasal allergies, so while your eyes itch and burn, you might also be sneezing and blowing your nose. The most common culprits behind eye allergies are airborne allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander and mold. Depending on your specific allergy, you can suffer the symptoms of eye allergies all year-round or just during certain seasons. Some people suffer from chronic eye allergies due to cosmetics or eye drops that they're allergic to. Some irritants like cigarette smoke, perfume and car exhaust can result in the same symptoms as eye allergies; however, they're not actually allergic reactions.


If you can't prevent your exposure to the allergens that affect your eyes, there are some medications that help relieve the discomfort. Decongestant eye drops can eliminate the redness, but they don't last for long. Saline rinses help to wash out the allergen from your eyes. Ketotifen eye drops are supposed to relieve symptoms for up to 12 hours, and oral antihistamines might help, too.