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Why are my eyes itchy and watery?

Ask Your Pharmacist

By Adaku Efuribe

Whilst growing up in Nigeria as a school girl, I noticed that some of my class mates at some point had what I later learnt to be bacterial conjunctivitis.

We used to call it ‘apollo’ in those days and the teacher will always send you home if you had apollo as it was deemed to be highly infectious.

Those days we felt that if someone with ‘apollo’ looked straight into your eye you could contact the infection; so once you notice your mates eye was getting red, you start keeping away from the person.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis is a common condition that causes redness and inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye (the conjunctiva); it is self limiting i.e. it clears up within a few days on its own even without medication, although sometimes people use chloramphenicol eye drops available from the pharmacist to relief symptoms.

Today I will be talking about another type of conjunctivitis called allergic conjunctivitis which is often overlooked, people are used to ‘apollo’, but allergic conjunctivitis is quite common as well.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is not caused by a bacterial infection and thus is not infectious, Allergic conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva- the lining of the eye, it’s not surprising that people with allergic rhinitis often suffer from allergic conjunctivitis. As the name suggests it is caused by allergies or pollen particles in the air.

Does your eye itch after you’ve been near an animal like dog, cat or live stock? Do they puff up or run with tears. Other causes of allergic conjunctivitis are pollens, animal dander, dust mite feces.


The symptoms are itchy and red eyes, tearing, oedema (swelling) of the conjunctiva or eyelid, and a mucous discharge. Although it can be uncomfortable, it’s reassuring to know that it is not a threat to your eye sight.

If your symptoms don’t quickly respond to treatment, see your doctor in case you have a different condition, sometimes other eye conditions can mimic allergic conjunctivitis.

Treatment for Allergic conjunctivitis.

If you feel you have the symptoms of allergic conjuctivities, visit your local pharmacy, there are over the counter (OTC) medicines e.g. antihistamines that can be bought without prescription to help relieve the symptoms.

Your pharmacist will be able to recommend a suitable product for you, advise you or refer you if appropriate.

Common OTC antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine tablets.

For allergic conjunctivitis that is very severe and doesn’t improve with other medications, there are prescription eye drops that contain corticosteroids, such as loteprednol elaborate and fluorometholone. However, these eye medications should only be used under the guidance of a doctor.

Lifestyle Advice/Self Care

If you wear contact lenses, take them out until all the signs and symptoms of the conjunctivitis have gone.

Avoid rubbing your eyes, even though they may be itchy as rubbing your eyes can make your symptoms worse.

You can have a cool compress over your eyes by wetting a flannel with cool water and holding it over your eyes to help ease your symptoms. Keep away from the allergen, if possible.


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