If your eyes itch and are red, tearing or burning, you may have eye allergies (allergic conjunctivitis), a condition that affects millions of Americans. Many people will treat their nasal allergy symptoms but ignore their itchy, red, watery eyes.
Eye Allergy Diagnosis
Eye allergies stem from the body’s immune system becoming sensitized then overacting to something in the environment which usually does not cause a problem for most people. Allergic reactions are caused by the eyes coming in contact with antibodies which are attached to the mast cells found in your eyes. These cells respond by releasing histamines and other substances that cause the tiny blood vessels in your eyes to leak and become red, itchy, and watery.
Some symptoms are shared by allergies and some diseases of the eye, which makes diagnosing allergies accurately important. Eye allergy symptoms can range from Annoying redness to severe inflammation which may impair your vision. If symptoms persist or remedies sold over the counter do not provide relief you should see an eye doctor who will look at your past medical history and your specific symptoms to conduct tests which may reveal and eye allergy.
Tests may include an examination of your eye with the microscope which will show the blood vessels that have swollen on the surface of the eye. Additionally your doctor can test for particular white blood cells that show up in areas of the eye which have been affected by allergies. Your doctor will gently scrape the cojunctiva and see if those white blood cells are found.
Management and Treatment
Avoiding the allergens that trigger your symptoms should be the first approach in managing perennial or seasonal forms of eye allergies.
- Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during the midmorning and early evening, and when wind is blowing pollens around.
- Avoid using window fans that can draw pollens and molds into the house.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize the amount of pollen getting into your eyes.
- Try not to rub your eyes, which will irritate them and could make your condition worse.
- Keep windows closed, and use air conditioning in your car and home. Air conditioning units should be kept clean.
- Reduce exposure to dust mites, especially in the bedroom. Use “mite-proof” covers for pillows, comforters and duvets, and mattresses and box springs. Wash your bedding frequently, using hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
- To limit exposure to mold, keep the humidity in your home low (between 30 and 50 percent) and clean your bathrooms, kitchen and basement regularly. Use a dehumidifier, especially in the basement and in other damp, humid places, and empty and clean it often. If mold is visible, clean it with detergent and a 5 percent bleach solution.
- Clean floors with a damp rag or mop, rather than dry-dusting or sweeping.
Exposure to pets:
- Wash your hands immediately after petting any animals. Wash your clothes after visiting friends with pets.
- If you are allergic to a household pet, keep it out of your home as much as possible. If the pet must be inside, keep it out of the bedroom so you are not exposed to animal allergens while you sleep.
- Close the air ducts to your bedroom if you have forced-air or central heating or cooling. Replace carpeting with hardwood, tile or linoleum, all of which are easier to keep dander-free.
Avoiding eye allergies isn’t always as easy as it seems. Our eyes’s allergies are often triggered by allergens which are airborne. Discussing your symptoms with an eye doctor will help determine which treatment options are right for you.
Over the counter non prescription eye drops are often used for short-term relief of symptoms. Often they will not relieve all your allergy symptoms and extended use of some of the OTC eye drops could actually cause your condition to get worse.
Oral medications and prescription eye drops are often used to treat eye allergies as well. These prescription eye drops give short and long-term relief of eye allergy symptoms. Your eye doctor can help determine which treatments are best for you.
Children may also be treated with prescription and over-the-counter eye drops and medications. Artificial tears can be used at any age and are safe as well. Antihistamines and Mast Cell stabilizers can be used in children 3 and older. But any treatment should be discussed with your eye doctor and child’s physician.