Anti-Histamine Eye Drops
If other allergy symptoms are also present involving the nose and skin, it is best to try an oral anti-histamine as a first step.
This one oral drug may be able to resolve all these symptoms. As I am fond of telling patients, oral medications affect the whole body as the medication goes to the stomach after swallow, gets digested, and spreads to the big toe just as much as the skin, nose, and eyes.
However, if symptoms are limited to just the eye, it is best to use topical medications like eye drops rather than an oral medication which goes everywhere (where it is not needed).
There are in essence two anti-histamine eye drops available over-the-counter.
The first is the combination of naphazoline and pheniramine found in NaphCon-A and Visine-A (formerly called Ocuhist). Naphazoline is a decongestant that helps eliminate the red eyes whereas pheniramine is an anti-histamine to help eliminate itching. It can be used up to 4X per day for relief.
The other contains the active ingredient ketotifen and has 3 modes of action: anti-histamine, mast cell stabilizer, and eosinophil inhibition. All three actions in essence help resolve current as well as future allergy eye symptoms. It's also why it can be used only twice a day opposed to 4X per day required with naphazoline/pheniramine.
There are three main brands of ketotifen that basically are the same thing:
- Zyrtec Eye Drops
- Claritin Eye Drops
The "zyrtec" and "claritin" eye drops names are quite misleading in that the eye drops do NOT contain the same ingredient as that found in the oral medication by the same name.
Personally, I prefer ketotifen over naphazoline/pheniramine due to longer-lasting relief per use, 2X per day dosing, and less risk (glaucoma and hypertension specifically). Ketotifen can be used from the age of 3 years (age 6 years for the other).
Of course, if these eye drops don't work, there are prescription antihistamine eye drops that work quite well including pataday/patanol (olopatadine), bepreve (bepotastine), and lastacaft (alcaftadine). Of course, most insurance companies require trial of OTC eye drops first before they will authorize these prescriptions.
On a final note, there is one steroid nasal spray called Veramyst that has an FDA indication for eye allergies though I suspect all steroid nasal sprays can help similarly. As such, if a patient has only ocular and nasal allergy symptoms, it may be worth trying a steroid nasal spray, though I'm not sure how often this is practiced in reality.