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Eyedrops for Allergies

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Decongestant Allergy Eyedrops

Decongestant eyedrops can quickly brighten the whites of your eyes and reduce eye redness for a short amount of time. Such medicines are also called vasoconstrictors. They work by narrowing blood vessels in the eye area. This relieves the red, bloodshot appearance of the eyes.

These eyedrops are widely available without a prescription. But doctors don't recommend them for treating eye allergies. Studies show decongestant eyedrops do not specifically affect the series of events involved in an allergic reaction.

Examples of over-the-counter decongestant eyedrops are:

  • Clear Eyes (naphazoline HCL)
  • Refresh (phenylephrine HCL)
  • Visine (tetrahydrozoline HCL, oxymetazoline HCL)

Decongestant eyedrops come with some risks. Long-term use can actually make your eye problem worse. "Rebound redness" is a common problem in people who use decongestant drops for a long time. Redness and eye swelling can continue even when you stop using the drops.

Decongestant (vasoconstrictor) eyedrops should never be used by people with glaucoma.

Mast Cell Stabilizer Allergy Eyedrops

Mast cell stabilizers are among the newest type of eyedrops. They target events in the body that lead to allergy symptoms. 

The medicine helps prevent the release of histamine and other chemicals made by your body during an allergic reaction.

Mast cell stabilizers do not provide immediate relief of eye allergy symptoms. Instead, they are used to prevent eye allergy symptoms in people with known allergies, including seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.

You may be able to use these drops for many months without any side effects. Mast cell stabilizers have been shown to help contact lens users wear their lenses for longer periods of time.

Over-the-counter mast cell stabilizer drops include:

  • Claritin Eye (ketotifen fumarate)
  • Refresh Eye Itch Relief (ketotifen fumarate)

Prescription mast cell stabilizer eye drops include:

  • Alamast (pemirolast potassium)
  • Alocril (nedocromil sodium)
  • Alomide (lodoxamide)
  • Crolom (cromolyn)

Multiple-Action Allergy Eyedrops

Some eyedrops contain more than one type of active ingredient. These are called dual-action or multiple-action eyedrops.

Antihistamine/decongestant combination eyedrops reduce eye itching, watery eyes, and redness. Examples include:

  • Opcon-A and Naphcon-A (pheniramine maleate/naphazoline HCL)
  • Vasocon-A (antazoline phosphate/naphazoline HCL)

Antihistamine/mast cell stabilizer combination eyedrops treat and prevent:

  • eye itching
  • redness
  • tearing
  • burning

These newer eyedrops are especially helpful for people with a condition called allergic conjunctivitis. Examples include:

  • Elestat (epinastine)
  • Patanol/Pataday (olopatadine hydrochloride)
  • Zaditor, Alaway (ketotifen)

Side Effects and Risks of Allergy Eyedrops

All medicine comes with some risk. Make sure you follow the recommended instructions when using eyedrops. You should not use over-the-counter eyedrops for more than two to three days. Long-term use of certain eyedrops can actually make your eye symptoms worse.

You should not use eyedrops if you have an eye infection or glaucoma. Talk to your health care provider about your options.

Some eyedrops may sting or burn when you place them in your eyes. Storing the eyedrops in the refrigerator may help reduce such discomfort.

Many eyedrops cannot be used while wearing contact lenses. Your doctor may tell you to remove your lenses before using the drops and waiting at least 10 minutes before reinserting them. Or you may be told that you cannot wear contact lenses at all during treatment with eyedrops.

Most types of allergy eyedrops must be used several times a day.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on April 16, 2014
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