Eye Allergies

Believe your eyes, and see what they may be telling you.
If your eyes itch, are red, tearing or burning, pay attention to what they may be telling you. You may have eye allergies, or allergic conjunctivitis, a condition that affects millions of Americans. It is a condition that can occur alone, but often accompanies nasal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, sniffling and a stuffy nose. And, while most people treat nasal allergy symptoms, they often ignore their itchy, red, watery eyes.

What causes eye allergies?
Just like hay fever and skin rashes, eye allergies develop when the body's immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something that is ordinarily harmless. An allergic reaction can occur whenever that "something" - called an allergen - comes into contact with your eyes. The allergen causes certain cells in the eye to release chemicals that cause blood vessels in the eyes to swell, and the eyes to become itchy, red and watery.

What allergens trigger eye allergies?
Allergens that may be present indoors or outdoors can cause eye allergies. The most common outdoor airborne allergens are grass, tree and weed pollens. People who are sensitive to these allergens suffer from seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, the most common type of eye allergy.

Pet hair or dander, dust mites and molds are the most common indoor allergens. These indoor allergens can trigger symptoms for some people throughout the year, resulting in perennial allergic conjunctivitis.

How are eye allergies treated?
As with any allergy, the first step for successful management should be prevention or avoidance of the allergens that trigger your symptoms. Here are some avoidance tips to reduce exposure to allergens that affect your eyes.

  • Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during the mid-morning and early evening, and when wind is blowing pollens around.

  • Keep windows closed and use air conditioning in your car and home. Air conditioning units should be kept clean. Avoid using window fans that can draw pollens and molds into the house.

  • Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize pollen getting into your eyes.

  • Avoid rubbing eyes, which will only irritate them or make your condition worse.

  • Wash your hands immediately after petting any animals. Remove and wash clothing after visiting friends with pets.

Because many of the allergens that trigger eye allergies are airborne, avoidance is not always possible. You should discuss your eye allergy symptoms with an allergy specialist to determine which of several treatment options is right for you.

Medications for the Treatment of Eye Allergies
Over-the-counter eye drops and oral medications are commonly used for short-term relief of some eye allergy symptoms. However, they may not relieve all symptoms, and prolonged use of some OTC eye drops may actually cause your condition to become worse. 

Prescription eye drops and oral medications are also used to treat eye allergies.  Prescription eye drops provide both short and long term relief of eye allergy symptoms, and they can be used to manage eye allergy symptoms in conjunction with an oral antihistamine that might be taken to manage nasal allergy symptoms.

Do allergy shots treat eye allergies?
If avoidance, oral medication and eye drops do not control your symptoms, allergy shots or immunotherapy is another option for relieving eye allergies. Tiny amounts of the allergen are injected with gradually increasing doses over time. The shots can actually keep your body from reacting to the allergens. The treatment takes several months to achieve maximum results.  Your allergist can help determine which treatments are best for you.

If you have any further questions please contact our hotline:

Ellen Epstein, M.D. FAAAAI, FACAAI
Adult and Pediatric Allergy
165 N. Village Ave.-Suite 141
Rockville Centre, NY 11570
516-678-0056

 

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