Spring time. It's not all daffodils and frolicking lambs. For many people it signals the onset of a season of itching eyes and sneezing, as plants begin to flower in the longer daylight hours. These symptoms represent an allergic reaction: an over-reaction of the body's defence systems to a harmless substance, known as an allergan. This condition is generally known as hayfever, and technically described as allergic rhinitis. When the condition is affecting the eyes, causing redness, puffiness, and itching of the eyes, we call it allergic conjunctivitis.
These over-reactions are very common. It is estimated that 20% of New Zealanders suffer seasonal allergies, often for several months of the year. The most common allergans are pollen, dust, and animal dander. An allergic reaction beginning in early spring suggests tree pollen as the likely culprit, while symptoms in late spring and summer are usually caused by grass and weed pollens. If you are suffering these symptoms year-round, it may be a reaction to dust, dust mites, mould, or your pet.
So what can you do about it? Here are a few strategies to reduce allergy eye symptoms:
This is the best and most obvious way to reduce allergy eyes, but is often easier said than done. If you can figure out what you're reacting to, then reduce your exposure to the offending allergan. Stay inside on days with high pollen counts, and/or wear wrap-around sunglasses if you do venture outdoors. Pollen counts tend to be highest in the morning and on windy days.
Reduce dust by vacuuming and washing bedding regularly, and try using dust mite resistant covers for pillows and duvets. If you're allergic to your pet, but are too attached to get rid of it, try keeping it outdoors.
Cool Compresses & Lubricants
A cool, damp flannel pressed against the eyes can help calm the inflammatory process and reduce allergy symptoms. You may need to do this several times per day. Preservative-free lubricant eye drops, such as Theratears or Systane UD, can help by diluting and flushing out allergans from the tears. Again, they may need to be used 2 or 3 times per day.
Anti-allergy medications work by shutting down the chain of chemical reactions that result in red, itchy, puffy eyes. Systemic anti-histamines, ie taken orally, can help somewhat with allergy eyes, but often they don't get enough active ingredient to the eyes to be effective. Medicated eye drops deliver the dosage where it is needed, and are generally more useful in reducing eye-related allergy symptoms. By far the most effective anti-allergy eye drop is Patanol, a prescription-only medication that is both gentle and effective at reducing allergic conjunctivitis symptoms. You can get this prescribed by a therapeutically-endorsed optometrist such as Troy, or from your GP.
It's important to note that several conditions can cause your eyes to be red. If you are having problems with red, itchy, irritated eyes, please do consult a professional for advice.