Eyes itchy, red and watery – what to do???

Wilce Student Health Center


Allergic conjunctivitis

My eyes itch terribly; they are red and tearful constantly… Doc, what is going on?

You’re not alone. In 2010, over 40 million bottles of allergy eye drops were purchased over the counter. This year alone, it is estimated that more then 10 million prescriptions for allergic conjunctivitis will be written. With last year’s winter in central Ohio being so mild and followed by a HOT spring and summer, everyone is itching, even those who have never experienced symptoms previously.

What causes allergic conjunctivitis?

Before we answer this; a quick anatomy lesson is in order. The front surface of the eye has multiple layers of tissue, some you can see and some you can’t. When you look into a mirror and see the white of your eye that is called the sclera. Lying directly above this is a clear tissue that is difficult to see without a microscope. It’s called the conjunctiva.  

Okay, so why does my conjunctiva become red and irritated springtime after springtime?

During the spring, plants, trees, and flowering buds release pollen into the air.  These pollens eventually end up in your lungs, nose, and eyes. When the pollen contacts the conjunctiva, it becomes an allergen, initiating an immune system chain reaction called a Type I Hypersensitivity Reaction. It is “hyper”sensitivity because the immune system “over” reacts to the allergen, believing it to be harmful, when, in fact, it is truly just a speck in your eye. When all this occurs, the eyes become red, itchy, and teary.

So what can we do about it?

Luckily, there are many options:

  • Often, the most effective are prescription eye drops recommended by your doctor.
  • There are also over the counter allergy eye drops, these are typically less effective and sometimes not effective at all.
  • If it is a mild case of allergic conjunctivitis a cool compress over the eyes can be effective as well.
  • If you have other allergy symptoms, you may also benefit from allergy pills or nasal sprays from your doctor.

Please remember, if you have a red eye make sure you visit your doctor to rule out other more serious causes like infections.

With the help of your doctor you can manage your allergy symptoms with ease, so if you’re tired of the itchy red eyes, make an appointment at Student Health Services today.  Talk to our appointments staff by calling 292-4321, and you may be booked with our Optometry professionals or with a Primary Care provider.

Good Eye Health!

Adam Fannin (OPTOMETRY IV, OSU College of Optometry Intern)

Julia Geldis, OD (OSU Student Health Services, OSU College of Optometry Faculty)