Allergic Eye Problems

Many patients have eye allergies. An allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts to an allergen that is normally harmless. Once an allergen comes in contact with your eye, specific cells within your eye trigger the release of histamine and some other substances in an effort to fight off the allergen. The reaction to this process can cause eyes to become itchy, red, and watery.

Allergens in the air — both indoors and out — cause many eye allergies. These allergens include:

  • pollen from grass, trees and ragweed
  • dust
  • pet dander
  • mold
  • smoke

Allergic reactions to perfume, cosmetics or drugs can also cause the eyes to have an allergic response. Some people may be allergic to the preservative chemicals in lubricating eye drops or prescribed eye drops. They should use preservative-free drops instead if possible.

In some cases the eyes react to other allergens that don’t necessarily come in direct contact with the eye. These allergens can include specific foods or insect bites or stings.

Many people inherit eye allergies from their parents, and patients are more likely to have allergies if both their parents also have them.


The most common eye allergy symptoms include:

  • red, swollen or itchy eyes
  • burning or tearing of the eyes
  • sensitivity to light

If accompanied by nasal allergies, you may also have a stuffy, itchy nose and sneezing. You can also have a headache, an itchy or sore throat or coughing.