Spring is a beautiful season, if only you could see it through your puffy, bloodshot eyes.
For many allergy sufferers, their eyes are on the frontlines of the battle against pollen and dander.
Allergic conjunctivitis is the medical term for the all-too-familiar feeling of itchy, watery eyes. For the more than 20 million Americans suffering from this condition there are many prescription and over-the-counter remedies to treat allergic conjunctivitis.
Perennial and seasonal allergic conjunctivitis are similar conditions where your eye reacts to an allergen that then triggers the body to release histamines.
With perennial allergies, this may be pet dander, mold or dust, while pollen is generally to blame for seasonal allergies.
Once histamines are released, blood vessels in the conjunctiva, the clear membrane covering the white of the eye, become swollen. This is when itchy, watery, uncomfortable torture sets in.
According to Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist at the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic and an officer in the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI),"the best thing to do is to avoid exposure."
Fineman suggests people with eye allergies follow these easy measures to reduce exposure:
-- Wash your hands often, and keeping them away from your eyes is a good idea. Also, when you feel you cannot keep your hands away from your irritated eyes, try a cold compress.
-- Wash your hair at the end of the day to remove any pollen from your hair before going to sleep.
-- Wear eye protection such as goggles while mowing the lawn. Do not wear contacts during allergic reactions.
-- Clean off your pets' paws when they come in from outdoors to minimize the allergens they track into the house.
-- On days with high pollen counts, if you must be outdoors, wear sunglasses to block some of the allergens from reaching your eyes.
Although avoidance may be the best policy, it is hardly a reality for most people. There is a wide selection of eye allergy medications today, available by prescription and over-the-counter.
There is a host of eye allergy relief available on store shelves, but everyone should still consult with a doctor, preferably an allergist or immunologist, before taking any of these medications.
Most eye allergy medications contain antihistamines, decongestants, and mast cell stabilizers, the same types of active ingredients seen in general allergy medications.
While antihistamines block histamines from causing allergic symptoms, mast cell stabilizers act as an anti-inflammatory agent so the body does not release histamines.
Meanwhile, decongestants actually shrink your blood vessels to decrease the amount of fluid that is released as mucus. "The products that contain decongestant that ‘take the red out,' if they're over used for a continually for a long period of time, then there is a rebound type condition where then there continual redness" Fineman said.
Corticosteroids, an anti-inflammatory medication, are also used for allergy relief, but are only available by prescription. Fineman noted that these are not the first line of defense in treating allergies. "Because of side effects," he said, "we usually recommend corticosteroids are administered by an ophthalmologist."
The other three classes of medications also come in prescription forms, and may be more effective than over-the-counter remedies depending on the symptoms and a person's eye sensitivities. Fineman suggests the most effective relief is usually in a combination medication, with antihistamine and mast cell stabilizers.
"There are some eye drops that can help with eye symptoms if used before exposure like a Cromolyn [a mast cell stabilizer], but you have to use it frequently throughout the day," Fineman advised.
Another type of mast cell stabilizer, ketotifen eye drops, sold under brand names Zaditor and Alaway, have recently been approved by the FDA and are now available without a prescription.
Fineman recommends speaking to a doctor to find out which combination of medications are best for individual allergies. He says artificial tears are a good place to start, and are safe for children.
And if the world is a still a blur after you have dripped all of your eye drops dry, Fineman says there is another option. "If the drops don't work, if the antihistamine doesn't work, then people with severe symptoms should be checked for their allergy sensitivities, because then they might even be a candidate for allergy shots."