It’s estimated that more than 50 million people in the North America have seasonal allergies. Eye allergies are very common. Red, itchy, watery eyes and swollen eyelids are caused by the same irritants that cause sneezing and runny noses among seasonal allergy sufferers. In some cases, allergies can play a role in pink eye and other eye infections.
Here’s how to get relief from springtime eye allergies.
Causes of Eye Allergies
Allergens are normally harmless substances that cause problems for individuals who are prone to allergic reactions. Pollen, mold, dust and pet dander are the most common airborne allergens that cause eye allergies. Reactions to certain cosmetics or eye drops, including artificial tears that contain preservatives, can also cause eye allergies.
Relief from Eye Allergies
Some of the ways to get relief from eye allergies include:
- Doing everything you can to limit your exposure to the allergens you’re sensitive to, by staying indoors as much as possible on high pollen count days with the air conditioner running
- Using allergen-trapping furnace filters
- Wearing wraparound sunglasses outdoors during allergen season to help shield your eyes and driving with the car windows closed
- Because the surface of contact lenses can attract and accumulate airborne allergens, consider wearing only eyeglasses during allergy season
- Alternately, switch to daily, disposable contact lenses
- Wearing eyeglasses with photochromic lenses can reduce allergy-related sensitivity to light, as well as help to shield your eyes from airborne allergens
- Some over-the-counter eye drops are formulated to relieve the itchiness, redness and watery eyes caused by allergies
Tips for Eye Allergy Sufferers
See your eye doctor before allergy season begins to learn how to reduce your sensitivity of eye allergies.
Ask your eye doctor which brand of artificial tears are best for you.
Avoid rubbing your itchy eyes as rubbing releases more histamine and makes your allergy symptoms worse.
Consider buy an air purifier for your home. Gently clean your eyelids before bed to remove any pollen that could cause irritation while you sleep.
Prescription Eye Drops
If your eye allergies are severe and/or over-the-counter eye drops are ineffective, you may need a prescription medication from your eye doctor. Prescription eye drops and oral medications include:
- Histamines are released as part of the body’s natural response to allergens and can cause a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Antihistamines block the attachment of histamine to cells that cause an allergic response
- Decongestants help to shrink swollen nasal passages and reduce the size of the blood vessels on the white of the eye to relieve red eyes
- Mast cell stabilizers cause changes in mast cells to prevent the release of histamine and related catalysts of allergic reactions. It may take several weeks to achieve their full effect, so these medications are best used before allergy season starts as a means of preventing or reducing the severity of allergies
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are eyedrops that may be prescribed to decrease swelling, inflammation and other symptoms associated with hay fever
- Steroids such as corticosteroid eye drops, are sometimes prescribed to provide relief from acute eye allergy symptoms, but the potential side effects from long-term use make them suitable for short-term use only
- Immunotherapy is a treatment where an allergy specialist injects you with small amounts of allergens to help you build up immunity gradually
Self-Test for Eye Allergies
Always consult your eye doctor if you suspect you have an eye condition needing care. The following quiz will help you to determine if you have eye allergies:
Do allergies run in your family?
Are your eyes often itchy, especially during spring pollen season?
Have your ever been diagnosed with conjunctivitis (pink eye)?
Are you allergic to specific animals, such as cats?
Do you often need an antihistamine and/or a decongestant to control sneezing, coughing and congestion?
Are your eyes less red and itchy during pollen season, when you stay indoors with the air conditioner?
When you use certain cosmetics or lotions, or when you’re around strong perfumes, do your eyes begin tearing?
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, it’s likely that you have eye allergies. See your optometrist or ophthalmologist for advice on how to cope.
Contact Lenses and Eye Allergies
A common complaint during allergy season is contact lens discomfort. Some contact wearers question whether they have become allergic to their contact lenses. This issue also comes up from time to time when someone experiences allergy-like symptoms after switching to silicone hydrogel contacts after successfully wearing standard soft contact lenses.
Studies show that the reason behind eye allergies associated with wearing contact lenses is not an allergic reaction to the contacts themselves, but to substances that accumulate on the surface of the contacts.
When switching from regular soft contacts to silicone hydrogel lenses, the surface of the new lens material may attract deposits more easily than the previous lens material and this is what causes the discomfort.
Many eye care professionals believe that the best type of soft contact lens for people prone to eye allergies, are daily disposable lenses that are discarded after one use. This reduces the buildup of allergens and other debris on the surface of the lens.
Because it allows significantly more oxygen to pass through the lens, compared with conventional soft contact lens materials, silicone hydrogel is the preferred lens material for daily contact lenses.