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Don’t Hide Your Allergy Eyes!

Follow These Steps to Find Relief

Allergy image

Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds can be inhaled and cause allergy and asthma symptoms. Pollen may travel many miles in the wind, so trees, grasses, and weeds beyond your immediate area can cause allergy and asthma symptoms. Pollen allergies are often seasonal, and allergy and asthma symptoms occur when the amount of pollen in the air is high.

For many seasonal allergy fighters, pollen irritates their eyes the most. They experience allergic conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane on the back of the eyelids and front of the eyeballs.

These people may be especially miserable in spring and early summer as grass pollen season kicks into high gear in much of the country. Grass pollens are especially irritating to the eye. So are ragweed pollens, which will begin spreading later in the summer.

Even though people blink an average of 15,000 times a day, pollen still gets in their eyes. There are several steps you can take to reduce pollen’s irritating effect on your eyes.

Wash your hands.
During high allergy season, pollen is everywhere. You get it on your hands opening a car door, running your hands through your hair, or touching other outdoor surfaces. If you rub your eyes with those pollen-coated hands, they will only get more irritated. Washing your hands frequently can reduce the amount of pollen that gets in your eyes.

Even though people blink an average of 15,000 times a day,
pollen still gets in their eyes.

Use saline rinses or artificial tears.
These can provide significant relief by removing or diluting the pollen grains in the eye.

Wear sunglasses.
Sunglasses can reduce the amount of pollen that gets in the eyes by deflecting the wind carrying it toward you.

Close the windows and use the air conditioner.
This can reduce pollen floating in the air both in the house and in the car. Trying to escape the summer heat by sleeping with open windows and a fan might provide temporary relief from heat, but it can cause allergy fighters to have stuffy noses, itchy eyes, and sneezing throughout the night.

Pollination may occur at all hours of the day or night, so people with hay fever and other allergies should close their homes and use an air conditioner to filter allergens. Using a fan to keep cool may actually add to the problem by keeping allergens suspended and circulating through the air. If windows need to be open, an antihistamine or decongestant can be taken – but only under the advice of a physician.

Apply cold compresses.
A bag of frozen peas or a moist washcloth that has been placed briefly in the freezer can reduce itching when put over the eyes.

Use medications.
Several medications can also help people whose eyes bear the brunt of their seasonal allergies. For people with mild symptoms, oral antihistamines can prevent irritation of both the eye and the nose. For those with more severe allergic conjunctivitis, physicians can prescribe a number of medications that can be applied directly to the eye. These include topical antihistamines, vasoconstrictors, mastcell stabilizers, topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or topical corticosteroids (which are usually prescribed by ophthalmologists).

People with eye allergies should consult their own physicians to learn what would work best for them. They should also remember to take some of these medications continually throughout the pollen season rather than intermittently because most of them work best if taken before the allergen exposure, rather than after the eyes have already become irritated.

Here are a few other ways to reduce pollen exposure:

  • If possible, keep windows and outside doors shut during pollen season, especially during the daytime.
  • If you have central or room air conditioning, use it so you can keep windows and outside doors shut.
  • Consider pollen counts when planning outdoor activities. It may help to limit your outdoor activities during the times of highest pollen and mold counts.
  • Outdoor activities may be better tolerated after a gentle, sustained rain.
  • Encourage hand washing after outdoor play to avoid transferring pollen from the hands to the eyes and nose.
  • If you are outdoors during high pollen counts, take a shower and wash your hair when you come inside.
  • If you are outdoors during high pollen counts, change your clothes (not in your bedroom) when you come indoors and leave these clothes in the laundry room.
  • Dry laundry in a dryer only; avoid hanging clothes outside to dry.
  • Drive with your windows closed. If it is hot, use your air conditioner.
  • Keep pets that spend time outdoors out of the bedroom. In addition to animal dander allergens, they may carry and deposit pollen stuck to their fur.
 

Source: National Jewish Health, www.nationaljewish.org

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, May/June 2011.