May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. With seasonal and perennial allergies in full bloom, we want to share some information about eye allergies including symptoms, causes, treatments, identification, and relief.
Symptoms of eye allergies
The conjunctiva is the loose connective tissue that covers the eyeball’s surface. When exposed to allergens and irritants, the mast cells linking the conjunctiva in the eye release histamine. This may result in the swelling of the conjunctiva and can cause eye allergies and their symptoms. Eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis, can present in many different symptoms: red/irritated/teary/itchy eyes, burning, eyelid swelling, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light.
Causes of eye allergies
Allergens and irritants can cause allergic conjunctivitis. Eye allergies can have environmental triggers and/or irritants. Environmental triggers of eye allergies include things found in the environment such as pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander. Eye allergies can also result from irritants. Possible irritants include cigarette smoke, cosmetic makeup, perfume, contact lenses, and even contact lens solution.
Hot, dry weather can dry out the eyes and worsen eye allergy symptoms. Eye swelling from allergies can also increase at night if there is a higher exposure to allergens common in the bedroom such as dust mites or pet dander.
How to address eye swelling
When an allergic reaction is happening, white blood cells attach to protective mast cells in the mucus membrane of the eyes and nasal passages and fluid builds up. When this happens, tiny blood vessels in the eyes leak. The leaking of the blood vessels causes inflammation and swelling in the surrounding eye tissues as well as watery discharge. As tempting as it may be, do not rub or scratch your eyes. This makes the problem worse and could lead to infection.
Bags under your eyes
The dark, blue-tinted circles under the eyes are known as the allergic shiner. Dark circles happen when the tissue swells and fluid builds up in and around the eyes. This causes blood to pool which creates dark circles under eyes. The allergic shiner can also be an indicator of an environmental allergy to pollen, dust mites, or pet dander. It can even be an indicator of a food allergy.
Treatment and relief for eye allergies
The best way to find eye allergy relief is by avoiding the eye allergens and irritants that bother your eyes. This may not be realistic for everyone due to the airborne nature of some of these allergens and irritants and their frequency in your everyday environment. To keep your eyes clear, clean, and comfortable, follow these tips:
- Wash out allergens and irritants. Use preservative-free eye wash or even your own tears to moisten your eyes and flush out allergens and irritants.
- Try a cold compress. Put a damp washcloth in the freezer for a couple of minutes. Take it out and apply it to your eyelids. This may reduce itching and swelling.
- Do not touch your eyes. Keep your hands away from your eyes. Wash your hands and face after being outside on high pollen and mold days. Wash your hands before touching your face.
Medications for eye allergies
Before immediately taking medication, talk with your doctor about developing an allergy treatment plan to address any of your nasal, respiratory, or eye symptoms. If your doctor examines you and decides that medication should be a part of your treatment plan, you may get over-the-counter eye drops, prescription eye drops, and/or oral medications. Oral antihistamines and decongestant eye drops are common over-the-counter medications used for treating eye allergies. Prescription antihistamine eye drops can also provide eye allergy relief. Prescription antihistamine drops combined with a mast cell stabilizer is another treatment option that can even prevent some symptoms. For severe eye allergies, your doctor may prescribe mild corticosteroid drops.
Pink eye vs. allergies
At times, it can be hard to tell the difference between eye allergies and pink eye because they often present with similar symptoms. Pink eye is a conjunctivitis caused by a virus or bacteria. To identify the difference between the two, pay close attention to the eye discharge. Eye allergies generally have clear secretions and itching, whereas the pink eye usually has yellow or greenish discharge. If only one eye is affected, be careful not to touch your other eye directly or indirectly.
Allergies and dry eye
If your eyes are dry and irritated in the winter months when less outdoor allergens are present, you may have a form of tear dysfunction known as dry eye or keratoconjunctivitis sicca. This happens when your eyes do not make enough tears or if your tears dry very quickly. Many people have dry eye; in fact, up to one-third of older adults have the condition. Symptoms may worsen when it’s cold or windy outside, when you turn your heat on, or if you live in a dry climate. Medications, sleeping pills, and anti-depression are all possible treatments for dry eye. Consult your doctor before taking any medication for this condition.
If you are experiencing symptoms of eye allergies, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with us today so we can help you decide what the best treatment method is for you.