Slideshows Images Quizzes
font size

Eye Allergy (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What are eyelid allergies (also called contact eye allergies)?

Contact eye allergies are essentially contact dermatitis of the eyelids. This is allergic inflammation of the eyelid from direct contact with certain allergens. Women in particular may experience this problem due to allergic reactions to preservatives in eye products and makeup (for example, eye creams, eyeliner or eye pencils, mascara, and nail polish -- from rubbing the eye with the fingers). Other irritants include common over-the-counter (OTC) ointments such as neomycin/bacitracin/polymyxin (Neosporin or Bacitracin) as well as contact lens solutions (especially if they contain thimerosal). Symptoms and signs that are similar to those of a poison ivy rash appear 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the offending agent. The eyelids may develop blisters, itching, and redness. The conjunctiva may also become red and watery. If the eyelids continually come into contact with the offending allergens, the lids may become chronically (long term) inflamed and thickened.

The best treatment for eyelid allergies is avoidance of the sensitizing agent(s). Changing to hypoallergenic lens solutions, cosmetics, or topical eye care products is usually necessary. Application of a mild topical corticosteroid cream for short periods will probably help. As is the case with atopic dermatitis, it is important to treat any secondary bacterial skin infection that may develop.

What conditions can be confused with eye allergies?

The following is a list of health conditions, the symptoms of which are commonly confused with eye allergy.

  • Dry eye: This condition results from reduced tear production and is frequently confused with allergy. The main symptoms are usually burning, grittiness, or the sensation of "something in the eye." Dry eye usually occurs in people over 65 years of age and can certainly be worsened by oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine (Atarax), Claritin, or Zyrtec, sedatives, and beta-blocker medications.
  • Tear-duct obstruction: This is caused by a blockage in the tear passage that extends from the eyes to the nasal cavity. This condition is also typically seen in the elderly. The main complaint is watery eyes that do not itch. Allergy testing will be negative in this case.
  • Conjunctivitis due to infection can be caused by either bacteria or viruses. In bacterial infections, the eyes are often "bright red" and the eyelids stick together, especially in the morning. A discolored mucous discharge is often seen, so-called "dirty eyes." Viral conjunctivitis causes slight redness of the eyes and a glassy appearance from tearing. Adenovirus is a major cause of viral conjunctivitis. Herpes viruses, such as the varicella virus that causes chickenpox or shingles, can also affect the eye. Adenovirus infection is very contagious and may be spread by either direct contact, such as hand contact, or in contaminated swimming pools. You should seek medical attention if you suspect any of the above.

Allergy assist

  • If your eye itches and is "milky" red, it is most likely allergy.
  • If it burns, it is probably dry eye.
  • If it "sticks" in the morning and is bright red, it is usually bacterial or viral conjunctivitis.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/24/2017


WebMD Daily

Get breaking medical news.

Use Pill Finder Find it Now See Interactions

Pill Identifier on RxList

  • quick, easy,
    pill identification

Find a Local Pharmacy

  • including 24 hour, pharmacies

Interaction Checker

  • Check potential drug interactions
Search the Medical Dictionary for Health Definitions & Medical Abbreviations

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors