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Spring Allergy Relief for Your Eyes

Spring is finally here and everything is blooming, including allergies! In addition to the typical sneezing, congestion, and runny noses that allergies cause, people may also experience a lot of ocular symptoms.

The term allergic conjunctivitis is used to mean that the conjunctiva, or mucous lining that covers the inner eyelids and sclera (white of the eye), is experiencing an inflammatory response to an allergen. Specific cells in the eye release histamines and other substances when triggered by an allergen, thereby causing red, itchy eyes. Tree and grass pollen tend to be the big allergen culprits in the spring and summer, while pet dander, mold, and dust mites tend to be common indoor allergens.

The most common ocular symptoms during allergy season are red, itchy, watery eyes. Sometimes, the eyes may burn and even the eyelids may become red and swollen. If you tend to get other systemic symptoms, they can include a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, sore/itchy throat, and headaches.

Limiting exposure to known allergens is the best way to preventing and minimizing symptoms. An allergist can perform tests to identify the allergens that trigger your symptoms. If pollen is an allergen, limiting outdoor time on high pollen count days or windy days is especially helpful. Wearing glasses and sunglasses outside can reduce the amount of pollen that goes directly into your eyes. Use air conditioning in the car and at home rather than opening the window. Make sure that air conditioning units are clean and that filters are changed at appropriate intervals. If you do go outside, shower before you go to bed and consider using artificial tears or an eye wash (available over the counter) to wash away pollen particles (avoid using tap water to rinse your eyes out). If you are a contact lens wearer, you may consider decreasing your contact lens use or switching to dailies to minimize allergen build up on your contacts.

For symptom relief, one of the most important things is to avoid rubbing the eyes! While this provides temporary relief, it can often exacerbate symptoms and you could give yourself a scratch. If you experience milder allergy symptoms, start with cool compresses and over the counter drops. Artificial tears help wash away allergen particles. You can use them up to four times a day, or if you buy the preservative-free formulation, you can use them as many times during the day as needed. Antihistamine drops help relieve itching and are typically used once or twice a day (these may sting when instilled, using an artificial tear a few minutes prior may help). Decongestant eye drops with or without an antihistamine relieve redness, but you should avoid taking these for longer than 2 or 3 days, as they can often cause rebound redness and worsen irritation over time. Oral antihistamines are especially helpful if you also experience other systemic symptoms, but may make the eyes dry. For those patients who have more severe symptoms, stronger topical medications may be required for a short period of time or immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be beneficial.