Eye drops for eye allergies

There are a range of eye drops used for eye allergies. Find out how to use them safely and possible side effects.

Eye allergies, also called allergic conjunctivitis, are quite common. They occur when your eyes react to something that irritates them (called an allergen). This causes symptoms such as burning or itchy eyes, feeling like something is in your eye, red eyes, swollen eyelids and tearing (watery eyes). Read more about eye allergies

Which eye drops are used to treat or prevent eye allergies?

There are a range of different types of eye drops used for eye allergies, such as antihistamines, mast cell stabilisersdecongestants and steroid eye drops. These different medicines have different actions. The choice of eye drops will depend on the severity of your symptoms. Some are suitable for short-term relief while others need several weeks of regular treatment to be effective.

Eye drop options and what to consider

Lubricant eye drops

Lubricating eye drops are also called tear substitutes or artificial tears. They help flush allergens from the eye and also moisten the eyes, which often become dry when red and irritated. They are best used for mild symptoms. Read more about eye lubricants.

Antihistamine eye drops

Antihistamine eye drops act quickly to relieve symptoms and are good for short-term relief. They can reduce the itching, redness and swelling associated with eye allergies. Examples antihistamine eye drops are:

  • Zaditen®
  • Livostin®

Mast cell stabilisers

These prevent the release of histamine and other substances that cause allergy symptoms. To prevent itching, the drops must be used before you’re exposed to an allergen. They can take several weeks of regular treatment to be effective.

  • They are most useful for seasonal allergies occurring at certain times of the year (eg, reactions to pollen or grasses) when you need to use them every day for a few months. 
  • They are also helpful for continuous or ongoing allergies, such as allergens from dust mite or pets.
  • Examples of mast cell stabilisers are:
    • Rexacrom®
    • Cromo-Fresh®
    • Allerfix®
    • Lomide®.

Antihistamine plus mast cell stabiliser

These are used for people with severe eye allergies that aren't responding well to antihistamine or mast cell stabilisers eye drops above.

  • It takes approximately 2 weeks of regular treatment (2 times a day) to be effective.
  • Examples include Olopatadine (Teva)® or Panatol®.

Decongestants

Decongestant eyedrops reduce the redness associated with eye allergies by narrowing the blood vessels in the eye. These medicines are only for short-term relief and can only be used for a few days (no more than 5).

  • Using them for longer than 5 days at a time, or too often, can cause rebound congestion or redness – increased swelling and redness that may last even after discontinuing the drops. 
  • Decongestant eyedrops shouldn't be used by anyone with glaucoma.
  • Examples of decongestants are:
    • Albalon®
    • Clear Eyes®
    • Optrex®
    • Naphcon Forte®
    • Visine®.

Steriods 

Steroid eye drops are used to treat severe allergies, that don't respond to antihistamines, or to treat a flare-up of allergy. These are usually prescribed by an eye care professional.

  • These medicines are not recommended for long-term use as they can be associated with side effects, including cataract and glaucoma, and potentially blindness.
  • Anyone on steroid eye drops will need long-term follow-up by an eye care professional such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
  • Examples include Flucon, Maxidex, Pred Forte.

How to use eye drops

It is important to use the correct technique when you use eye drops. This makes sure you get the right amount of medicine. 

  • Remove contact lenses before use and don't replace until 10 minutes after you've put the drops in your eyes. 
  • Care should be taken not to touch the eyelids or surrounding areas with the dropper tip of the bottle.
  • Administer different eye medicines at least 5 minutes apart.
  • The bottle should be tightly closed when not in use.

Read more about how to use eye drops.

References

  1. Corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory preparations NZ Formulary
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 04 Oct 2022