By Dr Nicholas Altuneg
When flowers bloom in early September, the pollen count in the air significantly increases, and with that comes seasonal eye allergies.
An allergy is when our immune system responds to what it believes to be a threat. In an effort to fight against the threat, it releases chemicals (for example, histamine) that can make us feel unwell or uncomfortable. Usually, this response will kill the infection, and our immune system will return to normal.
If someone’s immune system cannot remove the threat, they will stay in this heightened state of discomfort and unease, also known as an allergic reaction.
Eye allergies are a common issue for many people, even more so for those who wear contact lenses. However, there are certain remedies you can perform at home in order to ease the discomfort.
WHAT IS HAY FEVER, AND WHY DOES IT GET WORSE IN SPRING?
Pollen or dust is a foreign threat for many people, and if their immune system is unable to remove it, then it overreacts because it continues to detect the threat but can’t eliminate it.
A reaction to pollen, dust or pets is known as hay fever and results in an inflammation of the lining of your nose, throat, eyes, and sinuses.
Hay fever is also known as allergic rhinitis, which has two types:
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis – when symptoms happen at certain times of the year, such as Spring. Wind–borne pollen is the cause of seasonal hay fever, which usually occurs in the warmer months. The length of the pollen season depends on where you live and the plant species you are allergic to
- Perennial allergic rhinitis – when symptoms occur at any time of the year. Dust mites and domestic pets are the most common causes of perennial rhinitis.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS THAT YOU HAVE ALLERGIES?
General allergy symptoms include sinus swelling, itchy nose, eyes or throat, skin rashes or shortness of breath. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can affect your daily life.
Our eyes are very susceptible to being affected by allergies. Allergic reactions, including hay fever, can cause redness, itching, and swelling of the eyelids or make the eyes water.
If allergies are left untreated, they can cause further complications in your life, such as poor sleep, poor concentration and making you more being prone to sinus and eye infections. Asthma symptoms can be exacerbated by allergic reactions.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR EYE ALLERGIES
Whilst the symptoms of eye allergies can be very disruptive and uncomfortable, many treatment options are easily accessible.
There are many different eye conditions that present in a similar way to allergies, so if you are unsure or if the following treatments do not work, it is best that you book in to see your Optometrist for a proper diagnosis so that the correct treatment can be given.
Antihistamines can be accessed over the counter and can provide temporary relief by switching off the body’s allergic responses for a few hours.
Hot or cold compress
A hot compress heats the eyelids, and this warmth stimulates the glands to give relief from the tension and irritation of the eyes. A cold compress can be used to reduce inflammation and soothe the area in and around the eyes.
Lid and lash cleansers
For anyone that experiences eye allergies, they can be heightened by poor eyelid hygiene. A lid scrub or lid and lash cleanser can be used to wipe and clean away allergens, such as pollen or dust, on the skin around the eyes, which could trigger localised allergic reactions.
Eye drops are an easy on–the–go solution to ensure that your eyes are well–lubricated throughout the day. Regular eye lubrication can relieve uncomfortable symptoms and help flush out irritants. Using an eyewash is also a thorough way to cleanse and remove any allergens at home.
HOW DO EYE ALLERGIES AFFECT CONTACT LENSES?
Eye allergies cause many uncomfortable symptoms, making contact lens wear difficult for many allergy sufferers. Contact lenses can attract deposits such as spores, pollens, and dust, triggering and prolonging allergies. You may be tempted to shelve your contact lenses for the next few months and wear glasses instead.
While this is generally recommended if your eye allergies are severe, many contact lens wearers may be able to reduce their allergy symptoms by changing their contact lens routine.
Tips to alleviate eye allergy symptoms:
- Disposable contact lenses – replacing your lenses daily eliminates any deposit accumulation concern
- Clean lenses effectively – If disposable lenses aren’t an option, ensure you clean and disinfect them before and after each wear
- Hydration – not only should you be drinking plenty of water throughout the day, but eye drops are very helpful in replenishing the moisture in your eyes.
SHOULD YOU SEEK HELP IF YOU ARE IMPACTED BY EYE ALLERGIES?
There are many different eye conditions that present in a similar way to allergies. If you are even the slightest bit unsure that your common eye allergy symptoms could be worse, it is better to be safe than sorry. There are some eye conditions with similar symptoms that can cause irreversible vision loss.
An eye examination with an Optometrist can provide a proper diagnosis so that the correct treatment can be given. This will significantly reduce the potential risk of sight–threatening complications and provide the fastest resolution of your symptoms.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general eye health topics. It should not be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health care professional prior to incorporating this as part of your health regimen.
Dr Nicholas Altuneg is an Optometrist who has been working on the Central Coast for almost 30 years. He is the co–founder at Eyes by Design, which is in the Kincumber Centre. Appointments can be made by phone 4369 8169 or online at www.eyesbydesign.com.au