Spring in North Texas can be especially brutal for allergy sufferers. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Dallas ranks 19thin the nation for the most challenging places to live with spring allergies, although this year’s ranking is an improvement from last year’s no. 7 rank.
Spring allergies can cause sneezing, runny nose and nasal congestion, as well as dry, red, itchy, burning or even swollen eyes. These symptoms are more than irritating; they can be downright painful.
How allergies affect your eyes
When the conjunctiva (mucous membrane covering the whites of the eyes and lining the eyelids) comes into contact with allergens such as pollen from grasses, trees and weeds, the immune system senses a threat and antibodies are developed that release histamine, causing watery, itchy, red eyes.
In addition to seasonal allergies, many people suffer from perennial allergies, which may be caused by dust, mold, pet dander, air pollution, cosmetics, perfume, medication or smoke. If you aren’t certain of the cause of your eye allergies, ask your doctor for an allergy test to determine the source of your discomfort.
Common types of allergic eye conditions
Allergic conjunctivitis or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis: This is the most common allergic eye condition, and it is typically associated with seasonal allergies or hay fever. The release of histamine can cause common eye allergy symptoms, including itchy, red, burning, watery or swollen eyes. Topical antihistamine drops, decongestants and mast-cell stabilizers are common treatments for allergic conjunctivitis.
Atopic keratoconjunctivitis: Primarily affecting adolescent boys, this condition involves inflammation in the conjunctiva and the cornea. Symptoms include itchy, red patches on the eyelids, scaly or crusty skin on the eyelids, heavy discharge or sensitivity to light. If not properly managed, this condition could lead to permanent scarring of the cornea from rubbing and scratching.
Vernal keratoconjunctivitis: Though less common, this spring eye allergy condition causes the eyes to become itchy, sensitive to light and can even cause eyelids to feel heavy or droopy. Improper treatment may lead to impaired vision. A short-term, low-dose prescription of topical steroids has shown to be the most effective treatment for this condition.
Eye care tips for dealing with seasonal allergies
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, follow these eye care tips for relief from your symptoms:
- Apply a cold compress.If your eyes are puffy or swollen from allergies, a cold compress can provide temporary relief.
- Stay inside and keep your windows closed on high pollen count days. Local weather services provide daily pollen counts. When pollen is high, avoid being outside as much as possible. Typically, pollen counts tend to be higher mid-morning and early evening.
- Wear eyeglasses or sunglasses to block pollen from your eyes. When you do go outside, eyeglasses or sunglasses can provide an extra shield to protect your eyes from allergens that may be in the air.
- Practice proper contact lens care. Contact lens wearers may experience more allergy symptoms due to allergens becoming trapped behind the contact lens. Lenses should be cleaned thoroughly and changed regularly. Do not share contact lenses or cases with others.
- Wash your hands and hair frequently.In the same way your hands can spread germs, they can also spread allergens, and if you spend much time outside during the spring, pollen and other allergens may become trapped in your hair.
- Avoid rubbing or scratching your eyes. Consistently rubbing or scratching your eyes may lead to more serious eye problems or a damaged cornea. Purchase over-the-counter eye drops, or ask your doctor for prescription eye drops to help relieve dry or itchy eyes.
- Change your bedding frequently. Allergens can stick to your bedding, further irritating your eyes.
Remember that some eye conditions—dry eyes or pinkeye, to name a few—are not caused by allergies, but may be confused with allergies. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of eye allergies, only your doctor will be able to tell you if your symptoms are in fact caused by an allergic reaction. Schedule an eye exam today to ensure your symptoms are not caused by an infection or more serious problem.