Do's and Don'ts to Calm Itchy, Watery Eyes

Learn how to stop itchy eye allergies with easy home-care tips.

Medically reviewed in August 2020

Endless sneezing and stuffed-up noses drive most allergy sufferers to see their doctors. But many people put up with itchy, watery eyes and dark under eye circles not realizing those may be caused by allergies, too. If that sounds like you, odds are you're one of the millions of Americans with eye allergies. The annoying symptoms are actually more common than those of nasal allergies, but they often go undiagnosed and untreated. 

What causes eye allergies? 
Itchy, watery eyes are caused by the same process that triggers other allergic reactions. The immune system overreacts to something harmless, like pollen. When the allergen gets in your eyes, cells there release a chemical called histamine, which causes blood vessels to swell and the eyes to become red, itchy and watery. Eye allergies don't usually affect your vision, but they can be a major nuisance. 

The most common outdoor allergies are reactions to pollen from grasses, trees and weeds. Common indoor allergies include pet hair or dander (skin cells), dust mites and mold. 

What can I do at home to reduce eye allergies? 
To help remedy itchy, watery eyes, follow these simple do's and don'ts. 

  • Do keep windows closed. This keeps outdoor allergens from coating your home. For many severe allergy sufferers, the extra cost of running the air-conditioning is worth it. 
  • Do wear sunglasses. Besides protecting your peepers from harmful UV damage, sunglasses help keep pollen from getting in your eyes. 
  • Do keep your home free of dust, especially the bedroom. Use a dust mite cover for your mattress and pillows and frequently wash your sheets in hot water. For floors and counters, use a clean damp cloth and mop instead of dry dusting. For carpeting, use a vacuum with an allergen filter, like a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. 
  • Do clean bathrooms, kitchens and basements regularly. Cleaning with detergent and a 5 percent bleach solution can help reduce mold. Use a dehumidifier to suck some of the moisture out of damp rooms and basements, and make sure to clean the device regularly. 
  • Don't spend time outside when pollen counts are high. Pollen levels are usually highest in mid-morning and early evening and when it's windy. If you're planning a weekend hike or picnic, you might want to check the weather forecast first. 
  • Don't use window fans. They can draw pollen and mold into your house. Consider upgrading to a standing room fan with a HEPA filter. 
  • Don't rub your eyes. Rubbing your eyes only irritates them more. Try a cold compress to help soothe your eyes instead. 
  • Don't spend a lot of time around dogs or cats. As much as you might love your furry friends, their dander and hair can quickly put your allergies into overdrive. If you simply can't be parted from your pet, consider keeping it off your bed so you're not sleeping in all those allergens every night. After Rocky jumps down from your lap, immediately wash your hands and pitch your clothes into the hamper. Consider replacing wall-to-wall carpets with hardwood floors, tile or linoleum, which are easier to keep dander-free. 

When should I get help for itchy, watery eye allergies? 
Because itchy, watery eyes are usually caused by allergens floating around in the air, you can't always avoid them. When your watery eyes are getting the best of you, try an over-the-counter remedy. Artificial tears can temporarily wash allergens from the eye. These drops may contain decongestants or antihistamines, which can also relieve redness and itching. 

If these drug-store options don't work, it might be time to see an allergist. This type of doctor specializes in asthma, allergy and immunology. The doc will ask about your symptoms–what makes them better, what makes them worse–and may recommend allergy testing to pinpoint the specific causes. You may be prescribed medicated eye drops, which can include NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories), steroids or antihistamines. 

When severe allergies are making everyday life difficult, your doctor might recommend allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy. This treatment is when tiny amounts of an allergen are injected in gradually increasing doses. The shots can take several months, but the treatment can stop your body from overreacting to allergens, letting you see and enjoy life more freely. 

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