During these warmer days, many of us enjoy spending more time outside. For some, that can mean red, itchy, watery eyes. This time of year, the most likely culprit is seasonal allergies.

When the redness and itching is from common allergens such as dust, pollen, mold, or animal dander, over-the-counter eye drops can provide quick relief. If you plan to use drops to help manage your allergy symptoms, here are some tips.

Getting started with eye drops

  • Always read the label before purchasing eye drops. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist.
  • Avoid your allergy triggers. Check pollen counts before you go outside, keep doors and windows closed, and run the air conditioning.
  • Wrap ice in a towel or dip a towel in cold water, then place it on your eye. This may help reduce redness and itching.
  • Avoid contact lenses while you are having discomfort or while using eye drops.

Eye medications may seem harmless, but they can be dangerous in certain medical conditions. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor before using eye drops if you have any of the following conditions:

Choosing the right eye drops for seasonal allergies

All eye drops are not the same. When choosing an eye drop, think about what is bothering you most and select one that is best for your symptoms:

  • For dry or itchy eyes: Look for “lubricant eye drops” or “artificial tears” on the label, from brands that include Refresh, Systane Ultra, or TheraTears.
  • For itchy eyes: Look for Ketotifen, from brands that include Alaway or Zaditor; or Naphazoline and Pheniramine, by the brands Naphcon A, Opcon-A, or Visine-A.
  • For red eyes: Look for Brimonidine, from brands that include Mirvaso or Alphagan P; or Naphazoline, by AK-Con, All Clear, or Naphcon; or Tetrahydrozoline by brands that include Visine or Opti-Clear.

When to see a doctor for red, itchy eyes

There are other conditions that may cause your eye to be red or itchy. Some examples are corneal edema, conjunctivitis (“pink eye”), or a foreign object in the eye. It is important to contact your doctor before treating at home if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • pain in your eyes
  • double or blurry vision
  • light sensitivity, so that bright lights suddenly hurt your eyes
  • you are a contact lens wearer
  • damage to the eye has occurred
  • you have had chemical or heat exposure to the eye (excluding sunlight)

How to use eye drops

Placing drops in your eyes can seem frightening for some, while others may feel squeamish. The truth is, it does not hurt and often it can provide quick relief for your symptoms.

For best and safest results, here is the process:

  1. Be sure the drops are for the eye (“optic”). Products meant for the ear (“otic”) may not be used for the eye.
  2. Read and follow the directions on the product package.
  3. Check the expiration date to be sure the drops have not expired.
  4. Wash your hands.
  5. Remove contact lenses.
  6. Tilt head back or lie down.
  7. Gently pull your lower eyelid down, away from the eye. This will create a pouch for you to apply the medication.
  8. Look up and squeeze the bottle gently to let the drop fall into the pouch you just created. Do not touch the bottle to any part of the eye.
  9. Gently let go of your lower eyelid and close your eye.
  10. Keep eyes closed for three minutes. Avoid squinting, blinking and squeezing the eyes during this time. Use a finger to gently apply pressure where your eye meets your nose to help the medicine stay in your eye.
  11. If you are using multiple eye medications, wait five minutes between uses. If using drops and an eye ointment, use the drops first and wait 10 minutes before using eye ointment.
  12. Discard bottles that are designed for single use after one use. Throw away multiple use bottles after 30 days of opening.

You should not use most eye drops for more than 72 hours. If you are still experiencing red, itchy, watery eyes after 72 hours of use, stop using the drops and call your doctor.

Remember that pharmacists are medication experts and will gladly answer any questions you have about what eye drops would be right for you. We can even demonstrate how to use them properly.

Feel free to visit us at the pharmacy counter anytime. We care about getting you healthy and helping you stay that way!

Learn more about the Lifespan Pharmacy.

Katherine Duprey, PharmD, BCACP, CDOE, CVDOE

Katherine Duprey, PharmD, BCACP, CDOE, CVDOE

Katherine Duprey is a clinical pharmacist specialist with Lifespan Pharmacy.