Red, itchy and watering eyes are a common sight throughout the Midwest each spring, and this year will be no exception. With pollen counts already reaching record highs this year, eye allergies are in full-swing and ahead of schedule for many.
In fact, many people with low-grade seasonal allergies who’ve never experienced clinical symptoms in years past are becoming (or will become) symptomatic this year due to the mild winter and elevated allergen levels.
People get eye allergies when their immune system overreacts to an allergen—an allergen is the substance that causes irritation like grass, pollen, dust and pet dander. When your eyes are exposed to an irritant your eyes release “histamine” in order to protect the eye. Unfortunately, your body’s response to the histamine causes blood vessels to swell and the result is red, itchy, watery eyes.
Eye allergies affect the conjunctiva of the eye—the clear covering that covers the sclera (white part of the eye) and lines the inside of the eyelids. It is the same type of tissue that lines the inside of your nose…which is why when allergy season kicks in, people often experience irritation, sneezing and runny noses in addition to their irritated, red, itchy, watery eyes.
Seasonal ocular allergy, otherwise known as seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC), is the most common type of eye allergy. It is most prevalent in the spring and summer but can also be seen during the fall months. Mold or pollens from trees, grass and ragweed typically trigger this type of allergy.
Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis (PAC) is similar to SAC but is caused by allergens that exist year-round, such as dust mites, animal dander, smoke and others.
Combined, these two types of allergy affect at least 15-20% of the population.
Here are some quick at home remedies you can try. As with all medical conditions, please consult your eye care professional if symptoms are severe or persist longer than a few days.
You can minimize the effect of airborne pollen by wearing protective eyewear when outside, particularly when moving grass or working in the yard and washing your hands frequently and keeping them away from your eyes.
Simple things such as changing your air filter for your air conditioner or washing your pillow case more often and taking a shower before you go to bed all help alleviate the pollens that collect on your hair and clothes throughout the day.
When the eyes are irritated, nothing feels more soothing than a chilled bottle of artificial tears to soothe the burn…and artificial tears can also wash offending allergens from the surface of the eye.
Cold compresses can minimize swelling and often alleviate itching. Apply a cool, damp compress and close your eyes for a few minutes when you can. Not only is it a good de-stressor, it will really “put the fire out” in irritated eyes!
There are many OTC allergy eye drops on the market today. These products should only be used for a short period of time …no more than four times a day for a week. They typically contain both an antihistamine and a vasoconstrictor to “get the red out”. The problem with these types of drops is that they will simply mask the symptoms rather than treating the underlying allergic response and, overuse of these products can cause a “rebound” effect, causing the eyes to become red again, and often worse than before!
The most commonly prescribed drops today combine an antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer. The antihistamine portion helps alleviate the current symptoms, while the mast cell stabilizer prevents future recurrences before they start. These drops are very effective and safe for long-term use. Your doctor can prescribe newer versions of these drugs that allow for the convenience of once daily dosing, which is especially beneficial for the contact lens wearer.
Switching from a bi-weekly or monthly replacement lens to a daily disposable lens can prevent the buildup of allergens on the surface of the lens itself.
Is it allergies or is it dry eye? Many of the symptoms such as grittiness, tearing, red eye, blurred vision and eye discomfort are not always caused by allergies. Dry Eye Syndrome also mimics allergy eye symptoms and dry eye symptoms can be and are often worse during allergy season.
If your symptoms persist for more than a few days, you should seek the assistance of your Eye Care Professional.
Dr Mulqueeny is friendly yet very professional. He cares about his patients and will take the time to talk and answer any questions. I would tell anyone to go see him.