What Causes Eye Allergies, and How Can You Cope?
If you're familiar with red, itchy, or swollen eyes, you might have eye allergies (also known as allergic conjunctivitis). These uncomfortable symptoms can make a sunny day miserable and, depending on what causes your allergies, you might not even find relief indoors.
But you don't have to give up all hope yet. It's possible to both pinpoint the causes of eye allergies and control the symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about your eye allergies, and ways to manage painful symptoms.
Should You Worry About Eye Allergies?
Red, watery eyes can seem alarming at first – especially if you believe allergies only affect your sinuses, not your eyes. You might wonder if you're getting an infection like pink eye, or a more dangerous condition that could damage your eyesight.
The good news is that allergies aren't generally dangerous. They usually won't cause any permanent vision damage, though they might temporarily turn your world a little blurry or watery. Allergies are more annoying than dangerous.
Some signs that you suffer from eye allergies/allergic conjunctivitis include:
- Watery, clear discharge
These symptoms are similar to those of pink eye (conjunctivitis), which might make you worry. But if you have other allergy symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, or wheezing, you probably have allergies, not pink eye. Allergies usually affect both eyes at the same time, while pink eye often starts in one eye and moves to the other.
However, if you experience the following symptoms as well as the above symptoms, you may have pink eye:
- Swollen eyelids
- Light sensitivity
- Encrusted eyelids
- Constant feeling of "sand" in the eye
- Overwhelming burning or itching sensations
If you have any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your optometrist as soon as possible. Your optometrist can figure out what is causing the problem and recommend the most appropriate treatment.
Where Do Allergies Come From?
Having allergies means that your body reacts adversely to a certain irritating substance, or allergen. The allergen triggers your eyes to produce histamine, which fights the allergen. Unfortunately, histamine also causes your conjunctiva, or the clear membrane over the whites of your eyes, and your eyelids, to swell, redden, and itch.
Allergens come in all shapes and sizes, from pollen to pet hair. The most common eye allergies include perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC) and seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC). Perennial conjunctivitis can happen all year long, usually as a reaction to something indoors. Some common perennial allergens include pet hair, mould, and dust.
If you have seasonal conjunctivitis, your allergies happen at the same time each year, usually due to certain plants releasing pollen into the air.
If your allergy seems to be a one-time occurrence, your eyes might be allergic to a certain eye product, like a particular contact solution or a specific eye makeup. If your eyes feel irritated after you use a new product, discontinue use immediately. Contact your optometrist for eye product recommendations that better fit your eyes' unique composition.
How Can I Control My Allergy Symptoms?
When left untreated, allergy symptoms can become worse and more difficult to manage. Follow these steps to alleviate your symptoms and prevent the risk of complications from untreated allergies.
Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis
If you know you're allergic to pollen, check your local newspaper before going outside. It should list the pollen count for the day.
If the pollen count is particularly high, try your best to stay indoors. You should also close the windows, turn off any window fans, and run the air conditioner instead. If you use a vehicle, drive with the windows shut.
Remember that pollen counts tend to rise in the morning and early evening. Wind can also aggravate your allergies by swirling pollen through the air at a faster rate.
When you're outdoors, wear sunglasses (especially wrap-around sunglasses) to keep pollen out of your eyes. You should also avoid wearing contacts if you're outdoors on a high-pollen count day. Contacts can trap pollen spores against your eye, which worsens your allergic reaction.
Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis
If indoor allergens irritate your eyes, the best thing you can do is keep your home clean. Vacuum at least twice a week with a HEPA-filter vacuum. You may consider changing out any carpet in your home for other floor coverings such as hardwood floors, laminate, or linoleum. If you're allergic to dust, try sleeping with allergen-reducing pillow covers. Wash your bed sheets and pillowcases often to remove any allergens that accumulate during the day. Instead of sweeping, use a wet mop to trap and remove dust.
Moist conditions can cause mould to grow indoors. If you live in a humid area, check your home for mould. Clean up water damage from floods or leaks immediately. Clean humid areas of your home-especially the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room frequently. You might also consider investing in a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels low.
Medications and Eye Drops
Whether you have seasonal or perennial allergies, it is best to consult your optometrist before taking medication. Sometimes over-the-counter antihistamines can control your allergies. There are also eye drops that can be helpful to treat eye symptoms of allergies, without causing other side-effects. Your optometrists can give you recommendations or prescription for drugs or drops they think will work best for you.
What Should I Do Next?
Now that you know what allergies are and how to manage them, you can take care of your eyes and prevent further complications. If you have any questions, talk to your optometrist. He or she can give you solutions tailored to your specific situation.