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If your eyes are red and irritated it can be a little overwhelming at the pharmacy trying to determine which of the many over the counter eyedrops available are right for you. Dry eyes and eye allergies are common conditions that are sometimes mistaken for one another. This is largely due to similarity in symptoms, as both conditions can cause irritation, redness, and blurry vision. Compounding the confusion is the fact that an allergic episode can aggravate an already dry eye, exacerbating dry eye symptoms that had been mild and tolerable.

Your best bet is to start with an artificial tear to help lubricate the eye and make it more comfortable. If the source of your eye irritation is a dry corneal surface, this should remedy the problem. However, if the discomfort continues then, at worst, the artificial tears helped flush any allergens from the eye and your next step is to try an allergy eye drop.

Unlike artificial tears, which can be used as often as needed, over the counter allergy eyedrops need to be used as directed by the manufacturer for frequency and duration of use. Most over-the-counter allergy eye drops contain topical decongestants, like those found in drops that “get the red out” , which should only be used for a few days at a time. When topical decongestants are used long-term, a medical condition called conjunctivitis medicamentosa can develop. Symptoms may include an increase in eye redness and irritation, with more dependence on the eye drop for relief. OTC antihistamine eye drops, such as Alaway or Zaditor, specifically are formulated to treat itching due to allergy by reducing histamine in the eye tissues without using topical decongestants.