Warm sunny days are here again and most welcome them with open arms after a long, cold winter. The drawback for allergy sufferers is that allergens are everywhere and seem to be especially bad this year.
Allergies not only affect the nasal passages, but can affect the eyes as well. Ocular allergy, or allergic conjunctivitis can cause itching, redness, lid swelling, tearing, light sensitivity, and swollen eyes. Severity of symptoms can vary from mild irritation to severe itching and burning.
It is estimated that 20% of Americans suffer from ocular allergies. Eyes are especially vulnerable to allergens and irritants. Allergens cause cells in the eye to release histamine, which causes blood vessels to dilate and mucous membranes to become itchy, causing the eyes and lids to become inflamed. When the blood vessels expand, more allergen molecules can flow from the bloodstream to the eye, causing redness and swelling.
Allergens are more prevalent outdoors, but common indoor allergens include pet dander, dust mites and molds. These indoor allergens are present year-round and cause perennial allergic conjunctivitis for some.
For contact lens wearers, the irritation caused by ocular allergies, can be particularly severe. Allergens can bind to the contact lens surface and prolong exposure to the eye. Ocular allergies can drive some contact lens wearers to stop wearing contacts. Increasing the frequency of lens replacement can be helpful. Talk to your doctor about daily disposables. A research study found 67% of patients with allergies reported improved comfort with dailies.
Response of symptoms to anti-histamine medication can indicate whether the symptoms are being caused by allergies. Allergy testing and review of patient’s life and environment help to identify sources.
If you suffer from an ocular allergy:
· See an allergist to identify allergens causing symptoms.
· Some people find comfort in cold compresses on the eyes. The compression reduces the inflammation in the blood vessels. Artificial tear drops cooled in a refrigerator can provide similar relief.
· Topical medications are commonly used and tend to be an effective ocular allergy treatment. Delivering medication directly to the eye reduces the risk of side effects to other areas of the body. Dual action anti-allergic medications are applied twice daily and combine antihistamine with medication that stabilizes the eye’s mast cells. These medications can be applied before inserting lenses in the morning and after they have been removed at night, maintaining contact lens wear and minimizing discomfort associated with allergies. Ask your doctor if this might work in your case.