It’s that time of year again…..allergy season! The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology states that seasonal allergies affect 50 million people in the United States alone, concluding that up to 30% of adults and 40% of children are suffering from symptoms of sneezing, congestion, and itchy/watery eyes. Read on to find out what causes these allergy symptoms and to find out what you can do to alleviate them!
Allergies and Your Eyes
To those who are susceptible, many common particles in the air and environment will trigger an allergic reaction. These include things such as pollen, dust, mold, and pet dander. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system perceives these particles, also known as allergens, as foreign objects and releases antibodies into the immune system to fight the possible threat. These antibodies then travel to various cells in the body causing them to produce chemicals that bring about the typical allergy symptoms: runny nose, sore throat, watery/itchy eyes. In the eye, the cells that react to these allergens reside in the tissue of the conjunctiva, which is a clear, thin layer that covers the inside of the eyelids and the white part of the eye (sclera). Ocular symptoms may range from mild irritation and redness to severe itching and swelling of the eyelids. The good news is that this condition is not contagious and very rarely poses any serious threat to your eyesight!
There are several steps you can take to achieve relief from ocular allergy symptoms. The first is to avoid the allergens you are sensitive to. For example, if you are sensitive to pollen, stay inside on days when the pollen count is extremely high, and be sure to replace the furnace and AC filters in your home regularly. It is also helpful to wear sunglasses when you are outside to help protect your eyes from allergens reaching them in the first place.
There seems to be a correlation between ocular allergies and contact lens wear. This is because the surface of the contact lens is known to attract allergens and other materials during the course of the day, which prolongs the exposure of the allergen to your eyes. It may be beneficial to switch to glasses during the allergy season to help decrease symptoms. If that is not an option, using a hydrogen peroxide based cleaning solution, such as Clear Care, each day will help break down the build-up of deposits on the lenses better than a multipurpose solution. Just be sure not to put the hydrogen peroxide solution directly into your eye! A common option recommended by optometrists and ophthalmologists is to switch to daily, disposable contact lenses so that there is no risk of the progressive build-up of allergens on the lenses.
When All Else Fails…
If you have tried avoiding the allergens and no longer wear your contacts or have switched to daily disposable contacts and have still not found any relief from symptoms, then you may need to try an ocular allergy eye drop. Nonprescription allergy eye drops like Alaway and other over-the-counter drops are usually helpful if the allergic reaction is mild. These can be found at any pharmacy. If the symptoms are more severe and the nonprescription drops have not helped, then a stronger prescription eye drop may be necessary to treat the condition. Oral antihistamines, decongestants, mast-cell stabilizers, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drugs can also alleviate symptoms. It is important to consult your eye care provider to determine which treatment option is right for you.