Relief for Red, Itchy Eyes

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis symptoms may be treated with eye drops and cold compress

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For anyone with allergies, dealing with watery and itchy eyes can be very uncomfortable. Fortunately, if you don't have anti-allergy medication on hand, relief from these symptoms may still be possible.

A recent study found that using both eye drops (artificial tears) and a cold compress can provide significant relief from symptoms of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis - when the eye has an allergic reaction after exposure to an allergy-causing substance (e.g., pollen) - when compared to no treatment at all.

The authors noted that the most effective treatment of symptoms, however, was to use the above treatments in addition to taking medicine.

"Speak to your doctor about treatments for allergic conjunctivitis."

A recent study found that eye drops and a cold compress could treat seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.

This research study was led by James S. Wolffsohn, BSc, PhD, with the Ophthalmic Research Group, Life and Health Sciences at Aston University in the United Kingdom. The research team examined the effectiveness of using eye drops (artificial tears) and/or a cold compress in treating seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.

The study included 18 participants who were at least 18 years of age, did not have an eye disease, were not using medications that affect the eye, had no history of asthma, and had not used any antiallergic medication in the 14 days before the study.

In the beginning of the study, participants were exposed to between 251 and 500 grains per meter cubed of grass pollen in a controlled environmental chamber to cause an allergic reaction. Conjunctivitis symptoms were observed and recorded. At least one week later, participants were exposed to a similar concentration of grass pollen. Following this exposure, participants used eye drops, a cold compress for five minutes, both treatments, or neither, and then measurement of symptoms were recorded. These measurements were taken at 10 minute intervals over a one-hour time period. The researchers also compared the effectiveness of eye drops and a cold compress compared to a drug treatment (antihistamine eye drops - an allergy medication).

The researchers looked at symptoms of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis including itchiness, swelling, redness, watering, and eye temperature.

For eye itching and swelling, after one hour passed, symptoms were reduced by about 59 percent with no treatment, by about 72 percent with a cold compress, by about 85 percent with eye drops, and about 87 percent with a cold compress and eye drops.

For eye redness, after one hour passed, symptoms were reduced by about 16 percent with no treatment, by about 58 percent with a cold compress, by about 73 percent with eye drops and about 77 percent with a cold compress and eye drops.

The researchers found that eye temperature returned to normal levels within 40 minutes using eye drops, within 50 minutes using a cold compress, and within 40 minutes using both a cold compress and eye drops.

While the eye drops and cold compress were effective in improving symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, researchers found that drug treatment (antihistamine eye drops) was the fastest method to treat symptoms.

As the study authors noted, seasonal allergic conjunctivitis can make it difficult to complete daily tasks and may also negatively affect school or work performance. They concluded that patients hoping to treat symptoms may achieve the best results when using a combination of these treatments.

"This is an interesting study that demonstrates that seasonal allergic conjunctivitis symptoms are improved with the use of supportive care (cool compresses or lavage); however, reinforce that antihistamine eye drops improve symptoms more quickly.  In the end, if you have no eye drops, a cool compress is better than nothing," John Oppenheimer, MD, Physician at Pulmonary and Allergy Associates in New Jersey, told dailyRx News.

This article was published on September 24 in Ophthalmology.

The study authors reported no competing interests.

Review Date: 
September 27, 2013
Last Updated:
February 5, 2014