Red, burning, itching, tearing eyes are the main symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. The condition affects millions of Americans. More than one-third of children suffer from allergies. About 30% to 50% of children who have one parent with allergies will develop allergies. About 60% to 80% of children who have two allergic parents will develop allergies. Sufferers can feel downright miserable. Allergies cause fatigue, difficulties performing everyday activities, and may interfere with sleep. The condition may occur year round or seasonally. People who suffer may have dark circles under the eyes, known as allergic shiners. There are different types of allergic conjunctivitis and different triggers. Effective treatment depends on the type the patient has as well as identifying their unique triggers.
People with eye allergies suffer from redness, itching, burning, and clear discharge. Depending on the type of allergic conjunctivitis a person has, they may exhibit tearing, sensitivity to light, feeling that something is in the eye (foreign body sensation), puffiness, blurry vision, discomfort wearing contact lenses, swollen eyelids, or produce a thick, mucus discharge may be present. Some people with the condition also have nasal allergies, eczema, or asthma. All of these are allergic diseases.
Red eyes may occur when someone is exposed to their triggers. These triggers may differ from person to person. Pollen, dog and cat dander, dust mites, and mold are just a few potential eye allergy triggers. When a susceptible person is exposed to these allergens, a substance called histamine is released. Histamine and other inflammatory compounds are responsible for itchy eyes, watery eyes, and other allergic symptoms. Eye drops are available that reduce redness. They may or may not contain compounds that act as antihistamines and relieve itching, too. Red eyes that may be mistaken for pink eye (conjunctivitis) are a common symptom of eye allergies.
Red, itchy eyes can be so uncomfortable, it's tempting to rub or scratch. As much as you may want to, try to keep your hands away. Rubbing will only make symptoms worse by triggering the release of more inflammatory chemicals. Refrain from wearing eye makeup that might irritate eyelids. Wear glasses instead of contact lenses. Apply cold compresses over the area to help relieve symptoms. Wash your hands often to minimize introducing dirt or allergic substances into sensitive eyes.
If you are self-conscious about the appearance of dark circles, you can minimize their appearance with concealer. If the circles are blue, choose a concealer with a yellowish tinge to best hide the problem. If the circles are more brown, choose a concealer with an orange or peach tinge to mask the problem. Use no to minimal eye makeup as makeup may make symptoms worse. The less you put on your eyelids and around your eyes, the better. Instead, accentuate another feature, like your mouth. Put on a flattering shade of lipstick and you're good to go.
Do your symptoms act up in the spring or summer? You may have seasonal eye allergies. Pollen from grass, weeds, and trees may trigger your eye allergy symptoms. Monitor pollen counts and stay indoors when they are high outside, if possible. Close the windows and run the air conditioner to help filter the air. Pollen counts tend to be the highest in the early evening and mid-morning when winds are most active. If you must be outside, wear sunglasses to minimize contact with allergens. Do not use window fans. These can draw irritants from outside and deliver them into your home and make eyes itchy.
Indoor allergens may trigger eye allergy symptoms. Protect yourself by keeping windows closed at home and in the car. Run the air conditioner to help filter the air. Skip window fans that draw air with pollen and other allergens from outside and bring them inside. Take measures to protect yourself against dust and mold. If you go outside, change clothes and shower as soon as you get indoors because pollen sticks to clothing and hair. Pollen counts are highest in the early evening and mid- morning. Avoid going outside during these times, if you can. Do not allow cats and dogs to be in the bedroom. Pet dander on the floor or on bedding can be especially problematic for allergy sufferers and those with asthma.
Mold grows in bathrooms, basements, and kitchens. Safeguard against mold by making sure indoor humidity is between 30 and 50 percent. Use a dehumidifier in basements and other damp areas to keep moisture levels in an acceptable range. Clean and empty the water pan regularly. Mold can grow there. Make sure there is proper ventilation in the bathroom, kitchen, and basement and don't allow mold to grow. Install a HEPA filter in your air conditioner that is rated high enough to trap mold spores.
Many of the eye drops you can buy over the counter from the pharmacy contain active ingredients that are the same as those that treat nasal allergies. Different active ingredients treat different aspects of allergies. Antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers prevent the release of histamine and other compounds that cause itchy eyes. Artificial tears and tear substitutes used for dry eye syndrome keep eyes lubricated and help rinse away allergens. Decongestant drops minimize the appearance of blood vessels, which cause red eyes. Some kinds of eye drops may not be appropriate for some individuals, so discuss any you intend to use with your doctor first. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drops and steroids are available from your doctor by prescription. Ask your doctor for an eye care routine that is best for you.
Some medications that you take to treat hay fever, nasal allergies, runny nose, and throat and sinus problems may also help control eye allergies. Antihistamines and decongestants are available in capsule, pill, and liquid forms. Potential side effects of these medications may include dry eyes and drowsiness. Some kinds of decongestants may make you jittery or dizzy. If you have high blood pressure, certain ingredients in allergy medication may not be safe for you. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which medications are safe for you.
Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, are a series of injections to improve an individual's tolerance to allergens. The treatment helps the immune system be less sensitized to allergens and it may help with eye allergies. At first, small amounts of the offending allergens are injected into an allergy sufferer. As treatment proceeds, increasing amounts of the allergens are injected. Treatment usually lasts several months. People who have severe allergies may be the most likely to benefit from allergy shots. The treatment may not provide complete relief and you may still need to rely on medications to keep your chronic allergy symptoms in check.
The best way to avoid suffering from itchy, swollen eyes, watery eyes, and other allergy symptoms is to prevent symptoms before they start. Know your allergy triggers and do your best to avoid them. Do you feel better or worse during certain times of the year? Your doctor can perform allergy testing to identify which substances are irritants for you. You may need a combination of oral medications, nasal sprays, eye drops, and shots to control your eye allergy and allergic symptoms. Ask your doctor how best to control your chronic allergy symptoms and what to do if you have an allergic reaction.
Ask whether home remedies, like applying a cool compress over itchy eyes, will help. Discuss plans for how to treat mild and more severe symptoms with the doctor. Ditch the contact lenses when itchy eyes flare up. Stick to glasses. Follow your doctor's eye care instructions. Stash moisturizing eyedrops on hand at home and work to treat dry eyes when they occur. Protect your eye health by wearing sunglasses outside. You can manage diseases like eye allergies, asthma, eczema, and other conditions with the right plan.
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- American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology: “Types of Eye Allergy.”
- Pediatrics & Child Health: “Allergies in Children.”