How about Allergies? Facts and solutions that will help

June 29, 2015

Spring and summer are welcomed seasons in the North, but for many who suffer from allergies, warmer weather brings the onset of seasonal ocular allergies.

Often called allergic conjunctivitis, ocular allergies are reactions to indoor and outdoor allergens that get in the eyes and cause inflammation of the tissue that lines the inner eyelids. Pollen, mold, dust, pet dander, cigarette smoke and perfume are the most common allergens that cause allergic conjunctivitis and dark circles.

Eyes have increased vulnerability to allergens because, like the skin, they are exposed surfaces of the body. Allergens cause cells in the eye — called mast cells — to release histamine and other substances that initiate an allergy cascade. Symptoms include itching, redness, eyelid swelling, light sensitivity, burning sensation and watery discharge. A person’s symptoms can range from mild annoyance to severe itching with major effects on the tissues inside the eyes.

Beyond being annoying, ocular allergies may be disabling for some. Allergic symptoms typically occur when allergy sufferers are in situations that put them in close contact with allergens in which they’re sensitive, such as mowing, spending time outdoors or playing with pets. This is when eye allergies can become a real challenge to comfortably engaging in personal, work and social activities. And no one wants to go around with red and puffy eyes that give the appearance of fatigue, grief or even illness.

While ocular allergies can affect anyone, spring can be particularly difficult on those who wear contact lens because the surface of contact lenses can attract and accumulate airborne allergens. Many people successfully wear contact lenses throughout the year, but comfort can be drastically reduced during allergy season. Those individuals should talk to their eye-care professional regarding options, such as preservative-free lens disinfection or utilizing single-use lenses.

Extended wear time and infrequent lens replacement are two of the main reasons contact lens wearers face decreased comfort. If necessary, eye drops can be prescribed to reduce symptoms and improve comfort while wearing contact lenses.

The best approach to controlling ocular allergy symptoms is:
•Limit exposure to the allergens that trigger your symptoms.
•On days when the pollen count is high, stay indoors as much as possible.

•If available, utilize an air conditioner with high-quality filters that can trap common allergens, instead of opening the windows.
•When you go outdoors during allergy season, wear wraparound sunglasses to help shield your eyes from pollen.
•Drive with the windows rolled up.
•Washing your hands after petting any animal.
•Avoid rubbing your eyes when they itch; the physical trauma will break open mast cells, releasing additional histamine.
•Consider purchasing an air purifier for your home to filter indoor allergens; a dehumidifier to control mold; and “mite-proof” bedding covers to limit exposure to dust mites.

The symptoms of ocular allergies are exacerbated by dry eye syndrome. When tear production is low, allergens are allowed an extended contact time due to not being flushed away in a timely manner. The use of artificial tears is beneficial in controlling symptoms for both dry eye and ocular allergies. But the use of antihistamines may dry your eyes out and worsen your symptoms.

Nonprescription decongestant or “get-the-red-out” eye drops can help in situations where the exposure to the allergen is short-term. Those medications should not be utilized longer than a week, or they too can make symptoms worse.

If your ocular allergy symptoms are relatively severe, or if over-the-counter eye drops are ineffective at providing relief, you may need your eye doctor to prescribe a stronger medication. The warm weather won’t last forever; don’t let your ocular allergies keep you from enjoying it.