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Ditch the Itch

Itchy EyesItchy eyes are a common problem. In most cases the itch is mild and settles quickly but some people have severe or prolonged itching that requires treatment. Eye expert Dr Malcolm McKellar explains.

Itching is part of an allergic reaction where the surface of the eye (conjunctiva) overreacts to things in the air around us. That's why the condition is known as allergic conjunctivitis.

There are many things that can cause an allergic reaction. Some people are allergic to just grass and tree pollens and only have itchy eyes at certain times of the year. Others are allergic to things like pets, house dust mites and moulds, and so suffer all year round.
Some people also get red and watery eyes, eyelid swelling and sensitivity to light. In severe cases vision can be blurred.

It's common for people with itchy eyes to also suffer from other allergic problems such as asthma, eczema, and hay fever. They may also react to certain foods and medicines.

Sometimes it can help to avoid the problem in the first place. Things that may help include:

Simple measures Rinse your eyes with artificial tears or solutions such as Optrex. Cold compresses can be very soothing; a wheat bag kept in a plastic bag in the fridge works well. Avoid rubbing your eyes: rubbing will make your itch worse. Use a cool compress instead.
Non-prescription eye drops If you only get symptoms from time to time, ask your optometrist or pharmacist for antihistamine eye drops such as Livostin or Zaditen. You can use the drops when your eyes get itchy or take them just before you do something that you know is likely to cause your eyes to itch. People with frequent symptoms should try Rexacrom. Rexacrom is an effective treatment but takes three weeks to work and must be used continuously to keep working.
Prescription eye drops For more severe allergies your optometrist, GP or ophthalmologist can prescribe Patanol, non-steroidal agents such as Voltaren and Restasis, and steroid eye drops like Maxidex, Pred Forte and Predsol. These treatments are very effective but can have side effects. If you're using steroid eye drops, you need to be under the care of an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

What about hay fever tablets?
Tablets are good for hay fever but unfortunately not for itchy eyes.

Could it be your eye drops?
Talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist if your eyes get itchy when you use your glaucoma or antibiotic drops. You could be allergic to the medicine or the preservative in the bottle.

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Issue: Spring 2015