Warmer weather in St. Louis is here, and with it comes all the annoying symptoms spring allergies bring. While many allergy sufferers experience sneezing, congestion and a runny nose, some also have red, itchy, watery eyes. If you suffer from eye allergies this time of year, we’ll tell you how to get relief and when it’s time to see a doctor.
What Causes Eye Allergies?
Just as pollen triggers your nose to run, you get watery eyes because your eyes perceive the allergen as an intruder and release histamine to keep it out. Histamine is a chemical that causes inflammation, so blood vessels in your eyes swell and become red, itchy, and watery.
How Can I Prevent or Relieve Eye Allergies?
To keep from getting irritated, itchy eyes, you can try to:
• Limit your exposure. Stay indoors and close windows when the pollen count is high, and use a HEPA filter with a MERV rating of 9 or higher to keep the allergen from circulating through your indoor air.
• Avoid rubbing your eyes. This releases more histamine and actually aggravates eye allergies.
• Wear sunglasses. Since pollen blows through the air on a breezy day, sunglasses can keep it from making its way into your eyes.
• Remove contact lenses. Glasses may be a better bet this time of year since airborne allergens tends to build up on contacts. If you need to wear contacts, try artificial tears made for contact lenses, which can help wash allergens from your eyes.
• Use over-the-counter eye drops. You can find eye drops at local drug stores made to relieve watery eyes, redness, and itchiness caused by allergies.
• Take an antihistamine or decongestant (or a combination). Antihistamines reduce eye allergy symptoms by preventing histamine from attaching to cells that cause inflammation, while decongestants reduce the size of blood vessels to reduce redness in eyes.
When Should I See a Doctor About Eye Allergy Relief?
If you’ve tried the above prevention and relief methods and still have irritated eyes, make an appointment with a Sound Health physician to discuss a treatment plan. After discussing your allergy symptoms, your doctor may suggest a prescription medication such as:
• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops. These can decrease irritation, swelling, and other symptoms that accompany eye allergies.
• Steroid eye drops. These may provide relief from acute eye allergy symptoms, but your doctor will need to discuss side effects of long-term use.
• Mast cell stabilizers. This is an oral histamine blocker that’s usually taken before allergy season begins.
• Allergy shots. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, introduces small amounts of allergens to your immune system to help your body gradually build up immunity. Once your immune system accepts pollen or whatever allergen you’re sensitive to, you won’t be as likely to have itchy, watery eyes or the other respiratory symptoms that accompany spring allergies.