Allergic conjunctivitis / Allergy eyes

Family Health Diary

The term ‘-itis’ in a medical word means ‘inflammation’. Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the covering of your eye and inside your eye lids. This can be caused by an infection or by an allergy.

If you have itchy, red, watery eyes this may be an allergy rather than an infection. If you are not sure if you have an allergy or an infection, ask to talk to your pharmacist. They can ask you a few questions to help decide. You would not want to leave an eye infection untreated; but if it’s an allergy then you need something completely different to treat your eyes. You need to be sure of the cause, so you can use the correct medicine.

For allergy eyes (known as allergic conjunctivitis) symptoms include eyes that are:

  • Itchy
  • Red
  • Watery

An infection can often start in one eye then spread to the other. For an allergy it is more likely to be both eyes at once.

Allergic conjunctivitis can be just one of the symptoms for people with hayfever. If you get hayfever, you are likely to have itchy throat and runny nose as well as the watery, itchy eyes. For some people the symptoms are not so easy to describe and there can be confusion between hayfever and a cold. Do talk to your pharmacist to ensure you are using the best treatments for you or your family.

November through to February are usually the highest pollen count in NZ and this is generally considered to be ‘pollen season’. Wind pollenated plants like grasses have lots of pollen blowing in the wind and are most likely to be the cause of an allergy like allergic conjunctivitis. Even during ‘allergy season’ some days may be better than others. Cool still days will have less pollen and dust blowing around than dry, windy days.

Some allergies are all year round and may be due to:

  • household dust mites which are tiny insects that lives in every home mainly in bedrooms, carpets and mattresses, as part of the dust. 
  • mould spores
  • animals
  • chemical scents such as household detergents or perfume

You may also experience short term allergic conjunctivitis if they get something in your eye like shampoo.

Self-care and medications

  • A cool damp facecloth over the eyes may help. Some people prefer warm instead of cool. Use what feel best for you.
  • Wear glasses when outdoors to help protect your eyes from the pollen.
  • Don’t let the grass in your lawn go to seed. Make sure you cut it regularly.
  • Be careful drying your bedding and clothes outside during pollen season.
  • For seasonal allergies keep your windows closed and stay inside (as much as possible) on windy days.
  • Talk to your pharmacist about the most appropriate treatments for you (or your family). There are a range of drops and tablets that are available without a prescription that your pharmacist can recommend when appropriate.
  • There are also a range of medicine available on prescription from your doctor. Your pharmacist can refer you to the doctor if they think you need something stronger.

Warning signs
See your doctor immediately if your eye is very painful or if you are having trouble seeing clearly. There are lots of different causes for eye problems and some require immediate attention to prevent permanent loss of vision.

For more articles on allergies check out:
Allergic Rhinitis in Children
Dry Eye


Written by: Linda Caddick

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.


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