When Allergies Come ‘March’-ing In


By Stephen Cohen, O.D.

Although allergies can occur year-round, we are now entering the prime season…beautiful weather that reminds us why we live here, but a huge challenge trying to fend off the plethora of allergens floating around. Up to 30 percent of Americans have some form of allergy, and itchy, watery eyes ranks No. 1 as the most annoying symptom (ahead of runny nose, sneezing and scratchy throat). Most people are left to feel that they “just have to learn to live with it.” Fortunately, that is not the case.

The hallmark ocular allergy symptom is itchiness. Other ocular symptoms can include redness, tearing, increased mucous production, foreign body sensation, grittiness and scratchiness. During the height of allergy symptoms, people may also complain about blurry vision, and many contact lens wearers cannot tolerate having their lenses in their eyes.

Most people will “self-medicate” with OTC allergy products, which may not be effective and can even cause adverse reactions. Unlike “pink eye” (Bacterial Conjunctivitis), an antibiotic is ineffective in treating allergies, and since the signs of allergic conjunctivitis often look similar, many health care providers often try an antibiotic first. Newer prescription allergy medications provide both antihistaminic relief of symptoms, and also control the underlying cause of allergy symptoms, often providing some relief within even one or two doses. For severe symptoms, a steroid drop may be added for short term use. Cool compresses and certain lubricating drops can also provide some relief of symptoms. Lastly, there are oral non-sedating prescription antihistamines, which have been effective in decreasing ocular allergy symptoms along with the typical nose, sinus and throat symptoms. It is important to note, however, that with the use of antihistamines, we experience an increase in dry eye symptoms. This can be a particular challenge to contact lens wearers.

If you are an allergy sufferer, you know how debilitating it can be. For those who do, it’s a shame to have to look forward to the “dog days of summer,” when allergens tend to decrease, in order to find relief. Allergies cannot be cured, but they can be controlled. Your eye doctor can help you come up with a plan that will control and often prevent ocular allergy symptoms. What do you have to lose, except your itchy, watery, mucousy, blurry, scratchy, gritty eye symptoms? And that’s “nothing to sneeze at.”


Photo by bastamanography on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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