Fall is not a season of reprieve from allergies, especially for your eyes. Red, itchy, watery eyes and swollen eyelids (along with sneezing, congestion or a runny nose)… these symptoms are a clear indication that allergy season has arrived. Allergens which are small and usually harmless can be a real nuisance this time of year. If, however, you are one of the unlucky that is predisposed to allergies, these substances can elicit a serious and sometimes even debilitating allergic response.
Airborne allergens include mold, fungi, ragweed, pollen (from trees and flowers), dust and pet dander. August which is peak season for mold spores because of the hot and humid weather, tends to lead well into September due to the continuation of the humidity. As we transition to September/ October, ragweed begins to pick up as the main allergen and can lead well into November/December. These tiny pollen grains spread easily, even more so on breezy days.
Fall’s seasonal wind and rain can ramp up mold and fungi spores, causing your allergy symptoms to continue to linger. There seems to be no respite for your eyes.
An allergic eye reaction occurs when your eye releases histamines to protect itself from a perceived threat, which would be the offending allergen. The release of the histamines causes the symptoms of redness, itchiness, burning and tearing. This response is also sometimes known as allergic conjunctivitis. Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is often more severe and can cause puffy eyelids and itching which can make symptoms worse.
The best way to reduce discomfort and prevent an allergic reaction is to stay away from allergens as much as possible. Here are some tips on how to reduce exposure:
- Minimize outdoor exposure during pollen season
- Stay inside when pollen counts are particularly high or during a windy day
- Keep windows closed and use air conditioner with a clean filter
- Wear sunglasses outside to keep irritants from entering the eyes
- Wash your hands and clothes after coming into contact with animals or being outside for extended periods
- DO NOT rub your eyes as this can worsen symptoms, greatly aggravating swelling and itchiness, and can sometimes even cause an infection. You may also induce an astigmatism by rubbing the eyes to much
If you have severe allergies, avoid contact lens wear or reduce wear time when allergies flare up, as contact lenses can worsen symptoms and do not fit as they normally would when the eyes are swollen. Single use, daily disposable contact lenses are the best choice for allergy sufferers. It is also important to have a backup pair of glasses during allergy season.
Relief in the form of eyedrops is now easier to access with some medications that have been approved for Over-The-Counter (OTC) sale. OTC solutions include artificial tears, decongestant eye drops (which shouldn’t be used for longer than a week) or antihistamine drops. Oral antihistamines such as Claritin or Zyrtec may also provide relief to your eyes without causing drowsiness. If no eye drops are available, cool compresses (avoid heat) will also help to reduce the itch.
Some examples over our favorite OTC drops and artificial tears are:
If these treatments do not work, you can see your Optometrist to get a prescription for stronger eye drops (antihistamine or short-term steroid drops to reduce symptoms).
If you are experiencing lingering symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, don’t just assume they are allergies. See your Optometrist to determine the cause to ensure that it is not a more serious eye condition.
Eye 2 Eye Vision Center is currently accepting new patients should you have an eye allergy problems or general vision concerns that need to be addressed.
For an up-to-date pollen count visit www.pollen.com
Images provided by: Getty Images, Everyday Health, Allergy and Asthma Network, ALCON, ALLERGAN, Bausch & Lomb.
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