Finding Relief From Eye Allergies
People who have allergies are often quick to seek help for symptoms like sneezing, sniffling, and nasal congestion. But allergies can affect the eyes, too, causing red, itchy, burning, and watery eyes and swollen eyelids. The good news is that the same treatments and self-help strategies that ease nasal allergy symptoms work for eye allergies, too.
Eye allergies, also called ocular allergies or allergic conjunctivitis, affect one in five Americans. Though the symptoms they cause can be annoying -- not to mention unbecoming -- they pose little threat to eyesight other than temporary blurriness. But red, itchy, burning, and puffy eyes can be caused also by infections and other conditions that do threaten eyesight. So, it's smart to see your doctor if eye symptoms don't get better with self-help strategies or over-the-counter allergy remedies.
Like all allergies, eye allergies are caused by a glitch in the body's immune system. The trouble starts when the conjunctiva (the mucous membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the whites of the eyes) comes into contact with something that, while actually harmless, is seen as a threat. In a mistaken attempt to fight off the threat, the immune system makes antibodies that cause your eyes to release histamine and other substances. That, in turn, makes eyes red, itchy, and watery. Eye allergy symptoms can happen alone or along with nasal allergy symptoms.
Allergies: Seasonal and Perennial
There are two types of eye allergies: seasonal, which are more common, and perennial.
Seasonal allergies happen only at certain times of the year, usually early spring through summer and into autumn. They're caused by exposure to allergens in the air, commonly pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds, as well as spores from molds.
Perennial allergies occur throughout the year. They're caused mostly by exposure to dust mites, feathers (as in bedding) and animal (pet) dander. Other substances, including perfumes, smoke, chlorine, air pollution, cosmetics, and certain medicines, can also play a role.
Sometimes, its easy to tell what's causing an allergy -- for example, if symptoms strike when you go outside on a windy, high-pollen-count day, or when a furry friend climbs onto your lap. If its not clear just what you're allergic to, a doctor can give you a simple test to find out.
The first approach to controlling eye allergies should be to limit your exposure to allergy triggers:
- Stay indoors when pollen counts are highest, usually in mid-morning and early evening. Close the windows and run the air conditioner (window fans can draw in pollen and mold spores). If you go out, wearing eyeglasses or big sunglasses can help block pollen from your eyes. Driving? Keep the windows closed and run the air conditioner.
- Limit your exposure to dust mites by encasing your pillows in allergen-impermeable covers. Wash bedding frequently in water thats at least 130 F. If your mattress is more than a few years old, consider getting a new one. Old mattresses are often teeming with allergens.
- Clean floors with a damp mop. Sweeping tends to stir up rather than get rid of allergens. Especially if a pet shares the house with you, consider replacing rugs and carpets, which trap and hold allergens, with hardwood, tile, or other flooring materials that are easier to clean. Go with blinds instead of curtains.
- To stop mold from growing inside your home, keep the humidity under 50%. That might mean using a dehumidifier, especially in a damp basement. If so, clean the dehumidifier regularly. Clean your kitchen and bathrooms with a bleach solution.
- If your pet is causing your allergies, try to keep it outside as much as possible. At the very least, keep it out of your bedroom. Don't let it share your bed.
- Dont rub your eyes. Thats likely to make symptoms worse. Try cool compresses instead.
Allergy Medications for Eyes
What if avoiding allergy triggers isn't enough to relieve eye allergy symptoms? Over-the-counter and prescription medications can provide short-term relief of some eye allergy symptoms, while prescription treatments can provide both short- and long-term help. Remedies include:
- Sterile saline rinses and eye lubricants can soothe irritated eyes and help flush out allergens.
- Decongestant eye drops can curb eye redness by constricting blood vessels in the eyes. But these drops tend to sting a bit, and they don't relieve all symptoms. What's more, their effect tends to be short-lived, and using them for more than a few days can cause ''rebound'' eye redness.
- Eye drops containing ketotifen can relieve allergy symptoms for up to 12 hours. They wont cause rebound redness even with long-term use.
- Refrigerating eye drops may help them provide additional relief of allergy symptoms.
- Oral antihistamines can also help. Loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) tend to be less sedating than some older drugs, and they provide longer-lasting relief.
If these drugs aren't enough to do the trick, a doctor can prescribe other eye drops, including combination antihistamine-mast cell stabilisers and corticosteroids. If allergies are especially severe or persistent, allergy shots (immunotherapy) can also help.