If you're one of the 50 million Americans with seasonal allergies, you're familiar with itchy, red, and watery eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis is a common condition that occurs when your eyes react to something that irritates them. They release a protective substance called a histamine which causes swelling and that irritated, burning sensation.
The Symptoms and Causes of Eye Allergies
The symptoms of eye allergies are visible and obvious:
- Red or swollen eyes.
- Tearing eyes.
- Burning or irritated sensation in eyes.
- Sensitivity to light.
Allergens in the air are largely responsible for eye allergies, but other allergens may play a part. These may include:
- Pollen: comes from grass, trees, ragweed.
- Pet dander.
- Perfumes or cosmetics.
- Certain medications.
- Preservative chemicals in some prescribed or lubricating eye drops.
- Insect bites or stings.
- Certain foods.
Treating Eye Allergies
This seems obvious, right? But avoiding airborne allergens can be difficult, especially during seasons where pollen counts are high. Here are some tips:
- For pollen: Stay indoors as much as possible during high pollen count seasons, especially mid-morning and early evening, as well as on windy days. Use furnace filters. Keep windows closed and use well-cleaned air conditioners to keep cool, rather than fans.
- For mold: Humidity causes molds to grow! Keep the humidity in your home between 30 and 50 percent. Use a dehumidifier if you have to. Regularly clean high-humidity areas like basements, bathrooms, and kitchens.
- For dust mites: Clean your house often and with damp mops and rags that trap dust, rather than dry mops or brooms. Use allergen-reducing bedding and pillow covers, and wash bedding frequently.
- For pet dander: Clean your house often and well, and consider tile or hardwood floors rather than carpet. Wash your hands after touching a pet, and wash clothing that has been in contact with a pet. Avoid letting pets sleep in your bedroom. If the climate and area allows for it, let your pet have plenty of time to run around outside.
Eyewear: Sunglasses and eyeglasses, especially wraparound ones, can help protect your eyes from allergens. Eyeglasses with photochromic lenses can reduce the effect of light on eyes that are sensitive to it.
Contacts: Use daily disposable contacts or consider wearing eyeglasses during allergy seasons. Contacts can attract and accumulate allergens. If you have a regular pair of contacts, clean them often with a preservative-free solution.
Eyedrops and Medication
- Lubricating Eyedrops: Available without a prescription, these drops can wash allergens from your eyes as well as moisturize them, relieving itchiness and redness. Preservative-free drops are available for sensitive eyes.
- Decongestants: These help shrink swollen nasal passages, and also shrink blood vessels on the white (schlera) of the eye, which reduces red eyes. Decongestant eye drops are available.
- Antihistamines: The body's allergic response causes the release of histamines, which dilate blood vessels. They're responsible for your itchy, watery eyes. Antihistamines block histamines from attaching to cells. Antihistamine eye drops are available.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): You probably use these for headaches and body pain, but NSAIDs reduce inflammation and are useful for relieving swollen eyes.
- Corticosteroids: Steroid eye drops or other forms of corticosteroids are sometimes prescribed for chronic and severe eye allergy symptoms.
Be sure to consult your doctor or other qualified health care professional before taking any medication, supplement, or beginning any health regimen.