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Antihistamine eye drops: uses and side effects

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

You may be suffering from hay fever, or a reaction to another allergen, leading to sneezing and streaming. There’s an array of antihistamine eye drops available, so let our resident pharmacist take you through where to start and how to choose between them.

Tablets or eye drops?

You may have no other symptoms alongside your itchy or streaming eyes, in which case eye drops are a good place to start. If you have more generalized symptoms, then antihistamine tablets can be a useful addition, too. They aim to reduce the overall immune response, which is driven by the release of histamine from mast cells.

Over-the-counter options

Antihistamine eye drops such as olopatadine (Pataday) and ketotifen (Alaway, Zaditor) are available without a prescription. Pataday comes in both a once-a-day and twice-a-day formulation and can be used in children 2 years of age and older. Alaway and Zaditor are dosed twice daily and can be used in children 3 years of age and older.

Side effects

While they are generally well-tolerated, some people may experience mild side effects. Common side effects (less than 1 in 10) can include:

  • temporary stinging

  • burning sensations

  • blurred vision

  • redness in the eyes

Uncommon side effects (1 in 100) include:

  • headache

  • watery eyes

Rare side effects (1 in 1000) include:

  • allergic reactions, such as itching, rash, or swelling

It's important to note that serious side effects are rare, but if you experience severe eye pain, persistent irritation, or any other unusual symptoms, it's advisable to seek medical attention promptly.

Prescription alternatives

Stronger antihistamine eye drops are available by prescription.

Cromolyn sodium 4%, such as Opticrom eye drops, is available by prescription for those aged 4 years and above. This active ingredient is not classed as an antihistamine but works to reduce the release of histamine in the eyes and suppress allergy symptoms there. It’s applied four times a day, and can be used as a standalone treatment or alongside oral antihistamines.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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