Along with congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches and difficulty breathing, individuals with allergies often suffer from eye allergies or allergic conjunctivitis resulting in red, watery, itchy and sometimes swollen eyes. Just as irritants cause an allergic response in your nasal and respiratory system, your eyes also react with an oversensitive immune response, triggered by an environmental substance that most people’s immune systems ignore. Most individuals with allergies also suffer from eye allergies which affect millions of North Americans, particularly with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) which is common during the spring, summer and fall.
What Causes An Eye Allergy?
Eye allergies, or any allergies for that matter, occur when the immune system is hypersensitized to a stimulus in the environment that comes into contact with the eye. The allergen stimulates the antibodies in the cells of your eyes to respond by releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause the eyes and surrounding tissue to become inflamed, red, watery, burning and itchy.
Eye allergens can include:
- Airborne substances found in nature such as pollen from flowers, grass or trees.
- Indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust or mold.
- Irritants such as cosmetics, chemicals, cigarette smoke, or perfume.
Allergies can go from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Knowing how to alleviate symptoms and reduce exposure can greatly improve your comfort and quality of life, particularly during allergy season which can last from April until October.
To reduce exposure to allergens:
- Stay indoors and keep windows closed when pollen counts are high, especially in the mid-morning and early evening.
- Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes, not only from UV rays, but also from airborne allergens.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes, this can intensify symptoms and increase irritation. When the eyes get itchy, it is difficult not to rub and scratch them. However, rubbing the eyes can aggravate the allergic cascade response, making them more swollen, red, and uncomfortable.
- Check and regularly clean your air conditioning filters.
- Keep pets outdoors if you have pet allergies and wash your hands after petting an animal.
- Use dust-mite-proof covers on bedding and pillows and wash linens frequently.
- Clean surfaces with a damp cloth rather than dusting or dry sweeping.
- Remove any mold in your home.
- Reducing contact lens wear during allergy season or switch to daily disposable contact lenses.
Treatment for the uncomfortable symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include over-the-counter and prescription drops and medications. It is best to know the source of the allergy reaction to avoid symptoms. Often people wait until the allergy response is more severe to take allergy medication, but most allergy medications work best when taken just prior to being exposed to the allergen. Consult your eye doctor about your symptoms and which treatment is best for you.
Non-prescription medications include:
- Artificial tears (to reduce dryness)
- Decongestant eyedrops
- Oral antihistamines
Prescription medications include eyedrops such as antihistamines, mast-cell stabilizers, or stronger decongestants as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids.
Immunotherapy which are allergy injections given by an allergist are sometimes also helpful to assist your body in building up immunity to the allergens that elicit the allergic response.
If no allergy medicine is on hand, even cool compresses and artificial tears can help alleviate symptoms.
Finding the right treatment for your allergies can make all the difference in your quality of life, particularly during the time of year when most of us like to enjoy the outdoors.