Eyes itching, burning from allergies? Find relief here
Blinking. Tearing up. Rubbing red, irritated eyes. Spring has sprung for many allergy sufferers, which means pollen, like that from trees, will make its seasonal assault — a sort of windblown two-finger poke in the orbs.
“Tiny ‘allergy bombs’ is what I call them,” says highly rated allergist Dr. Maeve O’Connor of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Relief of Charlotte, N.C. “These can get in the eyes and lead to symptoms from itching to swelling.”
Here’s how to defend yourself:
Avoid the threat
The first line of defense is retreat. Stay indoors during the early morning if you can, O’Connor says. “[Trees] actually pollenate in the morning,” she says. That’s true of other plants as well, raising counts early in the day.
In general, monitor pollen counts and stay indoors when they’re highest. Keep windows and doors closed and for extra protection consider using a HEPA — high-efficiency particulate air — filter in areas of the home where you spend the most time, such as your bedroom. “That will suck a lot of the pollen out, as well as other allergens, like animal hair,” says Dr. Jonathan Corren, a highly rated allergist in Los Angeles.
Wash it away
When it comes to pollen avoidance, some experts urge everything short of battening down the hatches and holing up inside 24-7. Don’t want to make a total surrender? “We encourage people to go outside,” O’Connor says. But take steps, such as removing clothes as soon as you come inside, and make sure you shower as well. If you let a pet out, brush it before bringing it back in, and frequently sweep and change bed linens to remove pollen as well.
Treat the symptoms
Over-the-counter treatments, such as oral medication or eyedrops with antihistamine, may relieve symptoms that persist and leave seasonal allergy sufferers wincing through the spring or fall — or year-round for those dogged by not-so-seasonal allergens like dog or cat dander or dust mites. Antihistamines block histamines, or chemicals in the body that cause many allergy symptoms, such as redness or watery eyes, says Dr. Samuel Friedlander, who chairs an American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology committee that looks at, among other things, how allergies affect the eyes.
See the doctor
If OTC remedies don’t work, visit your primary care doctor or allergist for stronger prescription medications. “Most of my patients have a mixture of symptoms, between ocular, nasal and respiratory allergies,” says Friedlander, who specializes in allergy and immunology and treats patients at clinics affiliated with highly rated Cleveland-based University Hospitals.
To manage symptoms affecting the eyes, he may prescribe oral medicines or eyedrops with antihistamines, slightly stronger than those purchased over-the-counter.
In severe cases, doctors may also prescribe steroid drops, applied to the corner of the eye, to reduce inflammation. But these must be used sparingly, Corren says, as they can increase eye pressure and even raise risk of glaucoma when used repetitively.
Pinpoint the cause
For patients whose symptoms don’t abate, those who experience a lot of medication side effects, or other individuals who find relief but wish to cut back on medications, tests performed by an allergist can pinpoint the cause of one’s allergies, Corren says. That, in turn, better informs treatment, and may potentially improve avoidance (It was the cat after all!).
Get allergy shots?
Immunotherapy, or allergy shots administered over time, develops the body’s resistance and tolerance to allergens to diminish or completely alleviate symptoms allergy sufferers experience, including those involving the eyes. Where more conservative treatments fail, or for patients wishing to forgo taking medicines for allergies, experts say this may prove an appropriate option.
Mind your Ps and Qs — or, say, your P90X
Often lost in the allergy discussion, O’Connor says overall health and well-being can have an impact on allergy symptoms. “Staying well in general, with proper nutrition, exercise and a positive attitude [matters],” she says. “The healthier one is in general ... the lower the allergy threshold is.” By contrast, she adds, poor health, or even feeling less than your best, tends to exacerbate conditions: “If you’re stressed out, your back is going to hurt, and your allergies are going to be worse.”