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A Closer Look at Eye Allergies

Allergy image

If your eyes itch, are red, tearing or burning, pay attention to what they may be telling you. You may have eye allergies, or allergic conjunctivitis.

Just like hay fever and skin rashes, eye allergies develop when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something that is ordinarily harmless. Allergens that may be present indoors or outdoors can cause eye allergies.

The most common outdoor airborne allergens are grass, tree, and weed pollens. People who are sensitive to these allergens have seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, the most common type of eye allergy.

Pet hair or dander, dust mites, and molds are the most common indoor allergens. These indoor allergens can trigger symptoms for some people throughout the year, resulting in perennial allergic conjunctivitis.

Cigarette smoke, perfume, and diesel exhaust may inflame your eyes. They can act as irritants that cause nonallergic symptoms, or they can make your allergic response worse.

Avoid rubbing your eyes, which will only irritate them
or make your condition worse.

Eye allergies, specifically allergic conjunctivitis, can be extremely annoying and uncomfortable, and they may disrupt your day-to-day activities, but they usually do not harm your eyes. However, there are rare conditions that are associated with atopic dermatitis (eczema) and other diseases can cause inflammation that may affect the eyesight. Chronic forms of eye allergy may also be caused by application of eye drops and creams, or even cosmetics.

As with any allergy, the first step for successful management of seasonal or perennial forms of eye allergy should be prevention or avoidance of the allergens that trigger your symptoms. Here are some avoidance tips to reduce exposure to allergens that affect your eyes:

Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during mid-morning and early evening, and when the wind is blowing pollens around.

Keep windows closed and use air conditioning in your car and home. Air-conditioning units should be kept clean. Avoid using window fans that can draw pollens and molds into the house.

Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize pollen getting into your eyes.

Avoid rubbing your eyes, which will only irritate them or make your condition worse.

Reduce dust mite exposure in your home, especially the bedroom. Bedding, particularly pillows, should be encased in “mite-proof” covers. Wash bedding often in hot water (at least 130° F). Keep humidity in your home low (between 30 percent and 50 percent).

Clean floors with a damp rag or mop rather than dry dusting or sweeping.

Wash your hands immediately after petting any animals. Remove and wash clothing after visiting friends with pets.

If you have a pet to which you are allergic, keep it out of your house as much as possible. If the pet must be in the house, keep it out of the bedroom so you are not exposed to animal allergens while you sleep. Close the air ducts to your bedroom if you have forced-air or central heating and cooling. Replace carpeting with hardwood, tile, or linoleum flooring, which are easier to keep dander free.

Reduce indoor molds caused by high humidity by cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, and basements regularly. A dehumidifier can be used to reduce molds, especially in damp, humid places like basements. Make sure the dehumidifier is cleaned often. To clean visible mold in the home, use detergent and a five-percent bleach solution as directed.

Because many of the allergens that trigger eye allergies are airborne, avoidance is not always possible. You should discuss your eye allergy symptoms with an allergy specialist or your personal physician to determine which of several treatment options is right for you.

Over-the-counter eye drops and oral medications are commonly used for short-term relief of some eye allergy symptoms. However, they may not relieve all symptoms, and prolonged use of some OTC eye drops may actually cause your condition to become worse.

Prescription eye drops and oral medications also are used to treat eye allergies. Prescription eye drops provide both short- and long-term targeted relief of eye allergy symptoms, and they can be used to manage eye allergy symptoms in conjunction with an oral antihistamine that might be taken to manage nasal allergy symptoms.

If avoidance, oral medication, and eye drops do not control your symptoms, allergy shots, or immunotherapy, is an option for relieving eye allergies. Tiny amounts of the allergen are injected with gradually increasing doses over time. The shots can actually keep your body from reacting to the allergens. The treatment takes several months to achieve maximum results, and you may still be required to use medicine.


Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2010.