Sniffling, sneezing, and nasal congestion. Itchy, watery, red eyes. Welcome to spring allergy season!

While the sunshine, warm weather, and spring blooms are a refreshing, welcome sight after the cold winter months, they also bring along with them an abundance of pesky allergens. Like other allergies, eye allergies can be seasonal (affecting most people during the spring, summer and fall) or perennial (causing problems year-round). Seasonal allergies are most commonly caused by exposure to airborne allergens, like pollen from flowers, grasses, trees, or even mold spores.

Just like other allergic reactions, eye allergies are caused when these particles come into contact with the conjunctiva (the mucous membrane that lines our eyelids and the whites of our eyes). The allergic reaction is caused by our immune system’s incorrect response when coming into contact with these particles. Instead of classifying these substances as harmless “debris” in the air around us, when we have an allergic reaction, our body’s immune system attacks the perceived threat by releasing antibodies. This, in turn, causes our body to release histamines, which can lead to itchy, red, watery eyes.

These eye irritations can also cause allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis is more common in adults than children, but it may occur at any age. Allergic conjunctivitis occurs in a rapid fashion as the result of exposure to pollen, grass, dust mites, chemical exposure, certain foods, or exposure to any other substance to which you are allergic. It can be either acute or chronic.

Acute allergic conjunctivitis is the eye’s rapid (and exaggerated) response to an allergen. The hallmark symptoms are itchiness of the eyes, redness, and sometimes swelling of the eyelids. If the itchiness worsens when you rub the eyes, it is likely an allergic reaction. Depending on the severity, the eyelids may swell enough to cause them to shut due to the excessive inflammatory response.

Acute allergic reactions may involve other areas of the body in addition to the eyes, so it’s wise to seek medical attention. Once the diagnosis of allergic conjunctivitis is made, oral antihistamines such as Benadryl (though this causes drowsiness), Claritin, Dimetapp, or Chlor-Trimeton can help from the inside, out. Cold compresses applied directly on the affected eye(s) will help, too. Wrap a few ice cubes in a washcloth and hold it on the closed eye for intervals of five to ten minutes, as often as possible until the swelling subsides. Severe allergic reactions may require prescription medications or epinephrine injections prescribed by your Primary Eyecare doctor.

Chronic allergic conjunctivitis is typically a less severe, but longer lasting manifestation of the same signs and symptoms. Acute conjunctivitis normally occurs when there’s a limited exposure to the offending agent and then it’s removed, whereas chronic conjunctivitis is a result of prolonged exposure to the allergen. Chronic allergic conjunctivitis frequently occurs when someone lives with a pet they are allergic to or due to the seasonal hayfever that occurs in the Spring and Fall months in many areas of the country. Over-the-counter anti-allergy medications are a good way to begin treating chronic allergies. However, prescription tablets, liquid, nasal spray, and eyedrop medications are very effective in the management of chronic allergies.

Contact Lenses & Eye Allergies

clean contacts

It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from eye allergies, and According to the Vision Council of America, approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction. About 64% of them wear eyeglasses, and about 11% wear contact lenses, either exclusively, or with glasses. Contact lenses can often exacerbate symptoms and discomfort in people suffering from eye allergies.

Wearing daily disposable contact lenses can significantly reduce the number of eye symptoms among allergy sufferers. As a result, many eye doctors prescribe daily disposable lenses to their contact lens-wearing patients as a possible solution to seasonal allergy problems. Daily disposables may be superior to other contacts in this instance because they are discarded after each use, thereby eliminating the accumulation of allergy-causing debris on the lenses from day to day.

Do you think you might be suffering from eye allergies? The doctors at Primary Eyecare can help! Click the banner below to request your appointment today.

request an appointment

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: Copyright © 2011 | Dr. Joseph DiGirolamo, OD | The Big Book of Family Eye Care