There are a lot of seasonal and environmental allergens in Austin affecting our eyes. Dr. Colin Tam, at Spectacle Eye Design, can help you get the relief you need, regardless of the severity of your eye allergies.
Along with congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches and difficulty breathing, individuals with allergies often suffer from eye allergies or allergic conjunctivitis resulting in red, watery, itchy and sometimes swollen eyes. Just as irritants cause an allergic response in your nasal and respiratory system, your eyes also react with an oversensitive immune response, triggered by an environmental substance that most people’s immune systems ignore. Most individuals with allergies also suffer from eye allergies which affect millions of North Americans, particularly with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) which is common during the spring, summer, and fall.
Keep reading below as Dr. Tam answers your questions about eye allergies, what causes them, and how he treats them in his Central Austin eye clinic.
What Causes An Eye Allergy?
The causes of allergies are from either environmental or dietary reaction to allergens. It is an exaggerated reaction by the immune system in response to exposure to certain foreign substances. It is a disorder of the immune system which causes symptoms, such as sneezing, itching and watery eyes. Allergens are the stimuli that cause these allergy-related symptoms.
Eye allergens can include:
- Airborne substances found in nature such as pollen from flowers, grass or trees.
- Indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust or mold.
- Irritants such as cosmetics, chemicals, cigarette smoke, or perfume.
What are the common symptoms of allergies?
Eye allergies tend to include red, itchy, and watery eyes which are bothered by the same irritants that cause sneezing and a runny nose among seasonal allergy sufferers, which is very common.
How do allergies directly affect the eyes?
Your eyes are exposed to many allergens, like dust, molds, pollen, animal dander and other airborne substances and it is a reaction to a perceived threat that triggers a release of histamine to fight off the foreign substance.
What is meant by the term allergic conjunctivitis? Is that the same as “pink eye”?
Any "Pink Eye" can be considered either viral, bacterial or allergic conjunctivitis, and each has similar but distinct symptoms. Allergic conjunctivitis symptoms may show as swollen eyelids, red, watery or sticky eyes, and itchy along with mucus build up.
What is the difference between seasonal and perennial allergies? How would I know the difference?
Seasonal and Perennial allergies can be considered acute and chronic allergies. Acute allergies are a short-term condition that is more common during allergy season. Your eyelids suddenly swell, itch, and burn. You may also have a watery nose. Chronic allergies is a less common condition that can occur year-round. It is a milder response to allergens like food, dust, and animal dander. Common symptoms come and go but include burning and itching of the eyes and light sensitivity.
Can allergies do permanent damage to my eyes?
There is no permanent damage to the eyes with allergies, but long-standing chronic allergies can lead to systemic respiratory problems like bronchitis and asthma. General redness of the eyes and puffy eyelids will persist with chronic allergies. Burning and stinging of the eyes due to dryness of the eyes from allergies can also be a result of long-term allergies.
What are the treatment options available for this condition? How does your practice approach allergies?
Treatments for allergies are varied and can be effective for both acute and chronic allergies. Keeping your eyelids as clean as possible and debris-free is a simple, long-term solution. There are lid wipes on the market that feature a mild cleanser that removes any oils, mucous and debris that can clog the glands and reduce inflammation. Prescription antihistamine eye drops can reduce the symptoms of itching, redness, and discharge along with any puffiness or sticky eyes. More severe, acute cases may require the use of steroid eye drops. Avoid any over-the-counter red-eye drops, like Visine, as this will just mask the redness without helping the allergy symptoms. Taking oral allergy medications will also reduce ocular as well as sinus problems. Consult with your optometrist to see what would be effective for you.
Tips for Coping With Eye Allergies
Allergies can go from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Knowing how to alleviate symptoms and reduce exposure can greatly improve your comfort and quality of life, particularly during allergy season which can last from April until October.
To reduce exposure to allergens:
- Stay indoors and keep windows closed when pollen counts are high, especially in the mid-morning and early evening.
- Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes, not only from UV rays, but also from airborne allergens.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes, this can intensify symptoms and increase irritation. When the eyes get itchy, it is difficult not to rub and scratch them. However, rubbing the eyes can aggravate the allergic cascade response, making them more swollen, red, and uncomfortable.
- Check and regularly clean your air conditioning filters.
- Keep pets outdoors if you have pet allergies and wash your hands after petting an animal.
- Use dust-mite-proof covers on bedding and pillows and wash linens frequently.
- Clean surfaces with a damp cloth rather than dusting or dry sweeping.
- Remove any mold in your home.
- Reducing contact lens wear during allergy season or switch to daily disposable contact lenses.
Treatment for the uncomfortable symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include over-the-counter and prescription drops and medications. It is best to know the source of the allergy reaction to avoid symptoms. Often people wait until the allergy response is more severe to take allergy medication, but most allergy medications work best when taken just prior to being exposed to the allergen. Consult your eye doctor about your symptoms and which treatment is best for you.
Non-prescription medications include:
- Artificial tears (to reduce dryness)
- Decongestant eyedrops
- Oral antihistamines
Prescription medications include eyedrops such as antihistamines, mast-cell stabilizers, or stronger decongestants as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids.
Immunotherapy which are allergy injections given by an allergist are sometimes also helpful to assist your body in building up immunity to the allergens that elicit the allergic response.
If no allergy medicine is on hand, even cool compresses and artificial tears can help alleviate symptoms.
Finding the right treatment for your allergies can make all the difference in your quality of life, particularly during the time of year when most of us like to enjoy the outdoors.