Seema Mohanan, O.D.
Manager of Professional Services, MyEyeDr.
Alexander Smith, O.D.
Director of Professional Services, MyEyeDr.
What to Know about Allergies and Your Eyes
Spring is finally here and in the DC area, at least, it’s heralded by warm weather, cherry blossoms, and bursts of color from flowers and trees. Unfortunately, for many of us spring also means sneezing, coughing and itchy, watery eyes. Indeed almost 50 percent of Americans suffer from allergies and about 75 percent of those are afflicted with symptoms that directly affect their eyes, also called “allergic conjunctivitis.” Most commonly the symptoms associated with eye allergies are related to airborne allergens including pollen, mold, dust and pet dander.
What are the common symptoms of eye allergies?
Symptoms of eye allergies often include red, itchy, swollen eyes. Excessive tearing and even a slight discharge are not uncommon and since these symptoms resemble those associated with an infection, it’s best to visit your eye doctor to accurately diagnose the problem and recommend an effective course of treatment.
While eye allergies can affect anyone, it’s particularly hard on contact lens wearers. According to the American Optometric Association, extended wear time and infrequent lens replacement are two of the main reasons contact lens wearers face more severe symptoms. Contact lens wearers consider the following to make the spring season more comfortable:
- Reduce contact lens wearing time when possible
- Talk to your optometrist about changing your cleaning method or using daily, disposable contact lenses
- Use eye drops as prescribed by a doctor of optometry
- Consider wearing glasses more often during allergy season
What's the best way to treat eye allergies?
Red, itchy, burning and swollen eyes are the most common symptoms of eye allergies, but it’s important to resist constantly rubbing your eyes, as this actually makes the condition worse. In most cases, an Optometrist can soothe allergy-related conjunctivitis with prescription or over-the-counter eye drops depending on the patient and his or her medical history.
Of course, it’s also best to minimize exposure to the specific allergen. Try to remain in an air conditioned room or car and don’t spend long periods of time outside. The AOA also recommends the following:
- Don’t touch or rub your eyes
- Wash hands often with soap and water
- Wash bed linens and pillowcases in hot water and detergent to reduce allergens
- Avoid sharing, and in some cases, wearing eye makeup
- Never share contact lenses or contact lens cases with someone else
When allergy symptoms start, many patients head to the drugstore to purchase over-the-counter medications to treat their symptoms. While effective, eye drops often contain antihistamines, decongestants, or mast cell stabilizers that inhibit inflammation. According to the AOA, while these medications can clear up systemic symptoms like runny noses, sneezing and coughing, they can actually make ocular symptoms worse by reducing tear quantity and quality. For patients who experience dry eye and ocular allergy problems this spring, your optometrist has a number of very effective medications.
Remember, if you suffer from red, itchy, watery eyes, visit your optometrist today to find the right eye drop that works best for you!