Skip to main content


Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis (an allergic reaction affecting the eye) affects more than 7 in 10 people with allergies. Although not contagious, this type of eye problem can cause discomfort and aggravation to sufferers.

Allergic conjunctivitis can be seasonal when caused by pollens at a certain time of year, or year-round when caused by allergens, such as pets, feathers, perfumes, or eye makeup.

Allergic conjunctivitis is usually, but not always, associated with other allergic conditions, particularly hay fever and eczema.


Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes. The main symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include itchy eyes, increased tearing, red or pink eyes, and mild swelling of the eyelids.

Sometimes an eye infection can develop in addition to the conjunctivitis. This happens when bacteria on your fingers or hands enter your eyes after scratching or rubbing them.


Home treatment often can provide relief from allergy-related discomfort. Try the following:

  • Avoid the outdoors in the midmorning and early evening, when pollen counts are highest.

  • Use air conditioners instead of window fans because fans can draw in pollen and mold in from outdoors.

  • When outdoors, wear sunglasses or other eye protection to limit the amount of pollen that can reach your eyes.

  • To keep dust mites at a minimum, wash bedding, especially pillows, in hot water.

  • Use a damp mop when cleaning the floor and a damp rag when dusting.

  • Wash your hands after handling or petting an animal.

  • If you have a pet that you're allergic to, keep it out of your house, if possible, or at least, out of your bedroom.

  • Clean humid places in your house—the bathroom, the kitchen, the basement—regularly to cut down on mold.

  • Even if your eyes itch, don't rub them.

  • Wash off allergens. If you've been outside, use a wet washcloth to clean allergens off the eyelids and surrounding area. Artificial tears can help wash allergens from the eyes. Apply a cold washcloth to the itchy eyes. Wash your hair every night because it collects lots of pollen.

  • Use antihistamine eye drops or vasoconstrictor eye drops. If your eyes are still itchy or bloodshot after you rinse them, apply over-the-counter eye drops. Don't use the OTC eye drops for more than 2 to 3 days. Longer use can cause your eyes to become even more irritated.

  • Apply a cold compress to puffy eyes.

  • Try an oral antihistamine. If the previous measures aren't effective, take an oral antihistamine. Check with your healthcare provider first, though, because some oral antihistamines can cause dry eyes and more irritation. Also, some of these medicines have unpleasant side effects, such as sleepiness, dizziness, or excitability.

Get help

If the problem persists after 2 days of self-care, contact your eye healthcare provider as soon as possible. The healthcare provider may prescribe one of the following:

  • Antihistamine eye drops. The relief that these eye drops offer may last only a few hours, however.

  • Mast cell stabilizers. These are eye drops used as a preventive measure and are taken before you are exposed to an allergen.

  • A combination of antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops.

  • Corticosteroid eye drops. Because of side effects, these should only be used short-term and under the care of an ophthalmologist or other eye care professional.

Online Medical Reviewers:

  • Griggs, Paul B., MD
  • Kirsi Järvinen-Seppo, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Taylor, Wanda, RN, Ph.D.