It is officially spring, even though it may not feel like it outside! However, soon the weather will be warmer, grass will be green again, and flowers will begin to bloom. But for many people, the advent of spring also means the advent of seasonal allergies. And not just nasal allergies; many people suffer from eye allergies (or allergic conjunctivitis in medical terms), as well!
About Eye Allergies
Eye allergies can be either seasonal or perennial. Seasonal allergies occur mainly during the spring and fall, although they can be present in summer, too. They are directly related to pollen levels of grass, ragweed, trees, and other plants. Perennial allergies are generally related to indoor allergens, such as pet dander, dust, and mold. These last year-round and can flare up in the presence of a heavy load of the allergen, such as when a cat jumps onto your lap.
Eye allergies are caused when the presence of a usually-harmless item (the allergen) lands on the eye and is treated as harmful by the immune system. Mast cells, which are some of our immune system’s defense cells, release histamine to combat the allergen. Histamine causes inflammation and triggers nerves in the eye that send the itch message to the brain, as well as sets off the tear ducts. Thus, red, itchy, watery eyes are born. Often eye allergies will also be accompanied by nasal allergies.
Eye Allergy Relief
If you suffer from eye allergies, there are steps you can take to relieve symptoms. Avoidance of allergens is the first step; this can play a large role in preventing the symptoms from occurring in the first place. If you have seasonal allergies, don’t open your car or home windows (even when the temperature outside reaches a balmy 60-70 degrees!). Avoid going outside in mid-morning, early evening, or when it is windy; this is when the most pollen tends to be kicked up and floating on the air. If you do venture outside, wear sunglasses or glasses to help prevent pollen from getting in your eyes. If you have perennial allergies, vacuum and mop your floors often to prevent dander and dust build-up. Vacuum your furniture, as well, and launder your bedding often. Use pillowcases that are “mite-proof,” and do not allow your pets on your bed or in your bedroom. Use a dehumidifier in damp places, such as a bathroom or basement, to reduce mold, and scrub any visible mold with a solution of 1 cup bleach to 1 gallon water. If you go to others’ houses, ask them to place any pets in one room before you arrive and to keep them there during your visit.
Taking Eye Allergy Precautions
In spite of taking the most conscientious precautions, though, eye allergies sometimes just won’t go away. Try using eye drops, such as artificial tears or antihistamine drops. Do not use the antihistamine drops too much, though, because your eyes can come to rely on them to keep the capillaries small. If this happens, when you stop using them, your eyes may not be able to keep the capillaries small on their own, and you will end up with red eyes even when they are not exposed to allergens. People with glaucoma should not use them, and people with high blood pressure or heart problems should use them with caution. Avoid perfume, cigarette smoke, and diesel fumes. These can cause allergies to be worse. Also, if you wear contact lenses, be sure to remove them every night and clean them thoroughly, or use disposable lenses. You want to remove the allergens that can build up on them each day, and the contact lens itself can be irritating to the eye. If your eye allergy symptoms are severe, talk with your eye doctor about prescription treatments such as medication and steroid eye drops. Your symptoms may be from an underlying cause instead of allergies, as well, so your eye doctor may want to do a visual examination with a slit lamp microscope or even test your eye tissue for white blood cells associated with allergies to determine the cause of your symptoms.
This spring season, don’t let eye allergies get the best of you. Take precautions and keep symptom relief close at hand, and fully enjoy the outdoors after a long, harsh winter!