One of the parts of the body most associated with allergies is the eye. In fact, most patients who have hay fever or nasal allergies also suffer from eye (ocular) allergies as an accompanying condition. Think about it: If pollen or other allergens in the air can get into the nose, it's not surprising that they hit the eye at the same time. Let's take a closer look (pun intended) at eye allergies.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, eye allergies affect about a third of the population. All the common allergens like pollens, mold spores, animal dander and house dust mite, which cause nasal allergy and can trigger asthma, can lead to eye allergies as well. Typically, this is referred to as allergic conjunctivitis, as the conjunctiva or "whites" of the eyes is where the reaction occurs. Patients having allergic conjunctivitis usually suffer with eye itching and watering, redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, and eyelid swelling.
[See: 9 Signs of Dry Eye Disease.]
Managing eye allergies includes a three-fold approach: avoidance and remedies not involving medication; medications; and allergen immunotherapy. First (ideally), if you can avoid the allergens that trigger your eye allergies, then you won't have symptoms. Unfortunately, that is hard to accomplish. If you have pollen allergy, staying indoors when pollen counts are high and keeping the windows closed is beneficial. After you come indoors, remove your shoes and clothes for washing. Then shampoo and shower to get rid of the pollen on your body. If your pet causes your eyes to itch and water, keep them out of the house or, at least, out of the bedroom. If you wear contact lenses, you may be better off switching to eyeglasses during pollen season. Cold compresses can help soothe your eyes.
There are various topical therapies (used in the eye) for sufferers of eye allergy. You can start with refrigerated artificial tears, which can wash allergens from the eye and give relief from symptoms. There are over-the-counter brands like Systane, Refresh and TheraTears that can comfort your allergic eyes. You should avoid topical decongestants that only claim to remove redness, because they won't help your allergy symptoms. Topical decongestants constrict blood vessels in the eye and help reduce the conjunctiva redness but do nothing for other symptoms.
Oral antihistamines like Claritin and Zyrtec, which are helpful with nasal allergies, can also improve eye allergy symptoms. One of the most common treatments for eye allergies is topical antihistamines containing pheniramine, which help relieve redness and itching. Another group of topical agents are mast cell stabilizers containing ketotifen, which prevent the release of histamine from mast cells. This ingredient is in over-the-counter products like Alaway and Zaditor.
The newest group are classified as dual- or multi-action topical agents, which last longer in the eye and have both antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer. Recently one of these agents, Pataday, became available over the counter. Other types of treatments your allergist might recommended include oral or topical corticosteroids. These are usually reserved for severe eye allergies and should only be used as a short-term remedy. If you wear contact lenses, be sure to follow the directions for any allergy eye drop you use as to removing lenses from your eye and for how long.
Unfortunately, there are no medications that cure eye allergies, but there is a disease-modifying treatment, which is allergen immunotherapy. It can be given by injection under the skin (allergy shots) or a tablet under the tongue. The treatment contains small amounts of the allergens that are causing your symptoms. Doses are increased over time to build up immunity. Unlike medicine, there is no immediate relief, but this series of injections over time can provide long term control of symptoms.
Don't let eye allergies cloud your vision. There are many avenues to improvement. See your health care provider or allergist especially if eye allergies are worsening your quality of life.