A Closer Look at Eye Allergies
If your eyes itch and are red, tearing, or burning, you may have eye allergies (also called allergic conjunctivitis), a condition that affects millions of Americans. Let’s take a closer look at this troublesome allergic condition and what you can do to get relief.
Know the Symptoms
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is by far the most common type of eye allergy. It is caused by reactions to pollens from grass, trees, or weeds. People with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis experience symptoms in spring, summer, or fall, depending on the type of plant pollens in the air. Typical symptoms include
- Clear, watery discharge
People with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis may have chronic dark circles (known as allergic shiners) under their eyes. Their eyelids may be puffy, and bright lights may be bothersome. Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis symptoms often accompany the runny nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion associated with hay fever and other seasonal allergies. The itching may be so bothersome that it causes you to rub your eyes frequently – making symptoms worse and potentially causing infection. Perennial allergic conjunctivitis, as its name implies, occurs year-round. Symptoms are the same as with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, but tend to be milder. They are caused by reactions to dust mites, mold, pet dander, or other household allergens, rather than pollen.
The symptoms of eye allergy can range from mildly annoying redness
to inflammation severe enough to impair vision.
Get a Diagnosis
Eye allergies share symptoms with some diseases of the eye, making accurate diagnosis imperative. The symptoms of eye allergy can range from mildly annoying redness to inflammation severe enough to impair vision. If symptoms persist, see an allergist, who will review your medical history and symptoms and then conduct tests to confirm whether your symptoms are indeed caused by eye allergies.
Avoid Your Triggers
The first approach in managing eye allergy should be to avoid the allergens that trigger your symptoms.
Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during the midmorning and early evening, and when wind is blowing pollens around. Avoid using window fans that can draw pollens and molds into the house. Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize the amount of pollen getting into your eyes. And try not to rub your eyes, which will irritate them and could make your condition worse.
Keep windows closed, and use air conditioning in your car and home. Air conditioning units should be kept clean. Take steps to reduce your exposure to dust mites, especially in the bedroom. Use “mite-proof” covers for pillows, comforters and duvets, and mattresses and box springs. Wash your bedding frequently, using hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit). To limit exposure to mold, keep the humidity in your home low (between 30 and 50 percent), and clean your bathrooms, kitchen, and basement regularly. Use a dehumidifier, especially in the basement and in other damp, humid places, and empty and clean it often. If mold is visible, clean it with detergent and a five percent bleach solution. Clean floors with a damp rag or mop, rather than dry dusting or sweeping.
Exposure to pets
Wash your hands immediately after petting any animals, and wash your clothes after visiting friends with pets. If you are allergic to a household pet, keep it out of your home as much as possible. If the pet must be inside, 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 or cooling. And replace carpeting with hardwood, tile, or linoleum, all of which are easier to keep dander-free.
Take Medication If Needed
Many allergens that trigger eye allergies are airborne, so you can’t always avoid them. Talk with your allergist to see if over-the-counter or prescription medication is needed to help you control your eye allergy symptoms.
Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Fall/Winter 2015-2016.