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.
What Causes An Eye Allergy?
Eye allergies occur when the immune system is hypersensitized to a stimulus in the environment that comes into contact with the eye. The allergen stimulates the antibodies in the cells of your eyes to respond by releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause the eyes and surrounding tissue to become inflamed, making your eyes burn, itch, water and look red.
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 air fresheners or scented candles, cosmetics, chemicals, cigarette smoke, or perfume
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.
- 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 allergic 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 eye drops
- Oral antihistamines
Prescription medications include:
- Eye drops such as antihistamines, mast-cell stabilizers, or stronger decongestants
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Immunotherapy (allergy shots) is sometimes helpful to assist your body in building up immunity
Cool compresses and artificial tears can also help alleviate symptoms.