Eyes runny, red and itchy? Are you sneezing and have a runny nose? Do you feel as though you barely have the energy to get out of bed today, let alone do everything you have to do? You look out the window and see cars dusted with a yellow-green coating of pollen. Yup, it’s allergy season.
A quick look at the shelves overflowing with allergy relief products in your local pharmacy will give you an idea as to the astounding number of people with an allergy problem. Researchers at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimate about 50 million Americans have an allergic reaction to pollen, pet dander, shellfish, cleaning chemicals or an expanding number of potential allergens. Even worse, they also report the number of people with allergies is increasing.
What are Eye Allergies?
An allergy is an overreaction of your immune system to something (an allergen) that doesn’t bother most people, such as peanuts or cats. Histamine is released by the body as a natural response to pollen and other allergens.
An eye allergy (allergic conjunctivitis) is an allergic reaction that causes swollen, weeping, itchy eyes. The sensitive membrane that covers the eye and the inside of your eyelid becomes irritated. The allergic response is normally caused by an airborne allergen, typically pollen, dust, pet dander or mold. Allergies to foods or insect bites or stings do not usually cause as severe a reaction in the eyes as airborne allergens.
Eye allergies can also be triggered by a mascara or other cosmetic. A certain brand of eye drops, or artificial tears could also set off an allergic reaction. It’s possible to gradually develop an inability to tolerate a product you’ve used for a while. It’s also possible to have a severe allergic reaction the first time you try something new. In some cases, an eye allergy can be linked to a more serious problem such as conjunctivitis (pink eye) or another type of eye infection.
Contacts Can Become Allergen Magnets
A contact lens can attract and hang onto allergens, so think seriously about not wearing them during allergy season. If you really don’t want to give up your contacts, switch to disposable contacts you discard daily.
Switching to glasses for a while can avoid the allergen buildup that can trigger all the unpleasant symptoms you’d rather not deal with. Glasses help by acting as a shield against pollen and other allergens. If your glasses have photochromic lenses that darken in sunlight, you’ll gain an extra benefit since light sensitivity related to your allergies will be reduced. Wraparound-style sunglasses are also helpful.
OTC Eye Drops
Over-the-counter eye drops can help relieve your itchy, watery eyes for mild allergic reactions. Check with your Florida Eye doctor for a brand recommendation.
When over-the-counter eye drops aren’t doing the job, your Florida Eye doctor can prescribe oral medications and/or prescription eye drops after an eye examination including:
- Antihistamines: Help reduce allergy symptoms such as irritated eyes and runny nose.
- Decongestants: Help you breathe easier but can also with red eyes by shrinking the tiny blood vessels on the white (sclera) of your eye.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory meds: Help relieve seasonal hay fever symptoms (seasonal allergic conjunctivitis).
- Corticosteroid eye drops: Could be prescribed for short-term use for very severe allergic reactions.
Tips on Dealing with Eye Allergies
As you’ve heard many times, prevention is the best cure. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid airborne allergens completely, but taking a few precautions can help.
- Don’t rub your eyes! More histamine will be released, and your eyes will feel worse.
- Use artificial tears to wash pollen and other allergens from your eyes.
- Stay indoors on windy days to limit your exposure to allergens as much as possible. Pollen can blow considerable distances.
- Check the daily pollen count for your zip code and plan outdoor activities accordingly.
- Wash allergens from skin and hair and change clothes after time outdoors. Carefully wash your eyelids, especially before sleeping, to remove allergens.
- Don’t wait until you feel sick to take allergy medications; take them early.
- Keep a/c filters clean.
- Keep few or no indoor plants as mold can grow in the soil, especially important if you know mold is a trigger for your allergies.
- Keep pets away from your face.
Seasonal allergies aren’t fun but taking some simple precautions and medication if needed can make life more bearable.
Not all tips will work for everyone and aren’t intended to replace in-person medical treatment. If you’d like to learn more about eye allergies or any other eye condition, please contact Florida Eye Specialists and Cataract Institute.