If you, a family member, or a friend are an allergy sufferer, chances are that you’ve noticed more sniffling and seasonal reactions than normal this month. Seasonal allergies inevitably strike millions of Americans each year; and right now, a rainy spring in Pennsylvania has prolonged our exposure to certain types of pollen.
Even our staff feels the effects of seasonal allergies this year. That’s because allergies are as hard on our eyes as they are on our lungs, airways, and nose. And to address these symptoms, some patients visit their eye doctor as part of their allergy care.
So if your eyes don’t feel “right” this season, it may be time for you to visit with us as well - and to find an appropriate way to maintain your comfort when seasonal allergies strike.
Understanding Allergies: What, How & Why They Occur
While allergies are associated with sneezing, sniffling, and nasal congestion, our eyes are also often subject to allergy symptoms. Red, itchy, burning, and watery eyes and swollen eyelids are all symptoms of seasonal allergies - and are just as common as their respiratory counterparts.
Some people experience one of these symptoms; others experience a combination of them all. But all of these symptoms occur because of a biological response to our environments. And at their core, what we refer to as “allergies” are the result of the human body’s immune system.
The human immune system is designed to respond to and kill off invasive foreign entities, i.e. viruses, bacteria, and similar invaders. If a person has an allergy, however, their immune system responds to a particular substance just as it would a virus or bacteria. This response creates the allergy symptoms we know and hate to try and fight off what the body perceives as an invader.
Any substance that the human body overreacts to in this way is classified as an allergen. However, since different bodies perceive different substances as allergens, we all experience different types of allergies. Many current allergies in Pennsylvania, for example, are being triggered by high levels of flower and grass pollen, as opposed to dust or animal dander. But some people will react to animal dander rather than pollen - all because of what their body does and doesn’t perceive and respond to as a “threat”.
Whatever your allergy trigger may be, however, the symptoms are very real and can be very uncomfortable. They can cause temporary blurriness, making it difficult to function normally. Worse, in some cases, they can contribute to your risk of developing an eye infection. All of this begs the question - what can be done about them?
Addressing Allergies: What You Can Do This Season
While allergies can’t be cured, they can be addressed and managed. The good news is that there are lots of ways you can cut down on your exposure to allergens, thereby reducing your symptoms. From purchasing allergy-friendly bedding to avoiding being outside when pollen counts are high, simple adjustments in your daily routine will make a lot of difference in terms of your exposure and reactions to allergens.
In addition to using OTC medicine, simple tricks like wearing large glasses, keeping the windows of your home closed, and using cold compresses (rather than rubbing your eyes) can also help you avoid pollen and reduce your discomfort. Compresses, in particular, are helpful in reducing your risk of contracting an eye infection since the act of rubbing our eyes can easily transfer germs to our sensitive eyeballs.
Of course, to truly change your exposure to an allergen, you’ll need to know what you’re reacting to. So if it’s not clear exactly what you’re allergic to, it’s best to speak with your primary care doctor about getting an allergy test. This will be your best resource in determining the source of your allergic reactions.
If you are struggling with allergy symptoms and discomfort of the eye, especially for the first time, we also recommend visiting with your eye doctor. In some cases, people are also allergic to certain kinds of eye drops. The result is that their medications accidentally make their symptoms worse, not better! Visiting with an eye doctor, however, can help you avoid this unfortunate discovery and find a solution to your symptoms much more smoothly. Talking to a doctor will also be beneficial if it turns out that your lifestyle adjustments and OTC medications just won’t do the trick and bring your eyes relief; in these cases, we (and your primary care team) may prescribe stronger medicines or even allergy shots to help.
As you can see, there are a variety of solutions available to help you address your allergic reactions. We’re here to help you sort through this information as needed! If you have questions or concerns about your eyes and how to take care of them during allergy season, feel to contact us and request an appointment to discuss and address your concerns and eye health.