Now that fall is upon us, more people may have noticed symptoms of seasonal allergies.  Since our eyes are the most exposed part of our bodies to the environment, they tend to be the first to be affected by allergens and this is known as allergic conjunctivitis.  It is caused by indoor or outdoor allergen.  The most common allergens are pollen, mold spores, pet dander, or dust mites which cause the body's immune system to overreact.  This usually causes irritation or inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the white part of the eyes.  Some of the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis are:

  • Itching and Burning
  • Redness of the Eyes
  • Swollen or Puffy Eyelids
  • Tearing
  • White Stringy Discharge

It's very tempting for someone with ocular allergies to rub their eyes due to the itching, but this makes the itching worse.  It can also increase the risk of infection if someone uses unclean hands to rub their eyes.

If anyone is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should visit their optometrist.  The optometrist will not only evaluate for allergic conjunctivitis, but will also rule out any other ocular conditions that have similar symptoms.  This is critical since these symptoms can also be confused for dry eyes, infectious pink eye, or uveitis which all require different treatment options.

If diagnosed with allergic conjunctivitis, the allergen should be avoided.  For seasonal allergies, maybe consider limiting time spent outdoors.  In acute cases an over-the-counter artificial tear or saline drops can be used to rinse out the allergen.  Cold compresses can also be used to reduce the inflammation.  If the symptoms you should be seen by an optometrist to make sure it is not another condition that is causing the symptoms.  If you can get in to see an optometrist right away, consider an OTC topical antihistamine.  Zaditor is a drop that can be purchased at the pharmacy without a prescription, it should be used two times per day.  If a runny nose is also one of the symptoms, then an oral antihistamine can be used.  It should be noted that with any antihistamine, they will cause the eyes to feel dry.  Make sure to use artificial tears in addition to the antihistamine, regardless if topical or oral was used.

Some of the other treatments used by the optometrist are mast cell stabilizers and steroids.  Mast cell stabilizers, similar to antihistamines, reduce the reaction of the body to an allergen.  The difference being that antihistamines bring fast relief, whereas mast cell stabilizers take longer but the effects last longer.  Depending on the reaction the patient is having, most optometrists will prescribe an antihistamine and a mast cell stabilizer in combination.  Once the mast cell stabilizer has taken effect, usually about one to two weeks, most patients discontinue the use of the antihistamines and continue with the mast cell stabilizer.  Sometimes in severe ocular allergy cases, an optometrist may prescribe steroid drops to a patient to reduce the symptoms.  But due to side effects of steroids, it is not commonly prescribed.  If you're having any of the above symptoms, make sure to schedule an appointment and come in and see our optometrist.