Managing Spring Eye Allergies
Spring has sprung and for over 40% of Americans, so has allergy season. You don’t have to put up with itchy, red, swollen, burning, watery eyes this spring. Treatment for ocular allergies has evolved and can be carefully tailored by your eye doctor to relieve those annoying symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.
What happens in an allergic reaction?
Like all allergies, allergic conjunctivitis, is caused by your body identifying harmless substances such as pollen, mold spores, grass or ragweed as a harmful allergen. This causes a chain reaction in the body and an eventual release of histamine from mast cells. Histamine starts the process of removing allergens from the body by increasing the flow of mucus or increasing blood flow to certain areas, which causes all of the annoying symptoms.
Someone who is allergic to pollen, may notice their eyes water, which is the body trying to flush the pollen from the ocular surface. The redness is caused by the increased blood flow and itching from the inflammatory reaction.
Managing itchy, watery, red eyes
Managing allergies depends on the severity of a person’s reaction to the allergen. Someone with mild allergic eye symptoms may be able to manage using an artificial tear after exposure to the allergen. This essentially rinses and dilutes the amount of allergen in the tears, reducing the severity of the allergic reaction.
Another simple solution is switching from a two-week or monthly contact lens to a daily disposable contact lens. Allergens build up in multiple-use contact lenses, creating a stronger allergic response and more symptoms throughout the month. Allergy sufferers notice less redness, itching, and tearing because they start each day with a contact lens that hasn’t already been contaminated by allergens.
Allergy Eye Drops
Patients with more severe symptoms or those who can’t avoid allergy-triggering environments may need a daily medicated eye drop. There are over the counter anti-allergy drops in simple antihistamine form such as Visine-A, Naphcon A, or Opcon-A. These give temporarily relief for milder symptoms. Importantly, if these drops have a “get the red out” advertisement, they may actually make your eyes more red after a few hours.
Alaway (Bausch + Lomb) and Zatidor (Alcon) are over-the-counter drops with a combination of antihistamine and mast-cell stabilizers. These prevent the release of histamine from mast cells, reducing seasonal allergy symptoms when used regularly, in addition to more immediate relief from the anti-histamine. These over-the-counter drops typically need to be used in 6-8 hour intervals, tend to sting upon instillation, and can exacerbate dry eye symptoms, which mimic allergy symptoms.
When to see your eye doctor
For patients who also suffer from dry eye or don’t get the relief they need form over-the-counter drops, prescription allergy eye drops are available and can be prescribed by your optometrist, ophthalmologist, or allergist. These drops tend to reduce symptoms within a few minutes, have a longer efficacy of 12-24 hours, do not exacerbate dry eye symptoms, and most are safe for children over the age of 2. Those with the most severe allergic conjunctivitis, may need short term steroidal or other anti-inflammatory eye drops.
Stop rubbing your eyes (this makes things worse!) and call your eye doctor so you can smell the roses with clear, comfortable eyes this spring.