Seasonal allergies affect more than 35 million Americans each year and can have a tremendously negative impact on an individual’s quality of life. Tree pollens in April and May, grass pollens in June and July and mold spores and weed pollens in July and August add up to a five-month barrage of eye-irritating allergens.
Triggered by the same allergens that cause intermittent allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is the most commonly occurring ocular allergy. A part of a wide array of allergic conditions that involve inflammation of the conjunctiva, seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is characterized by a combination of ocular itching, inflammation, watering and redness.
If seasonal conjunctivitis is bothering you, here are some tips that can help:
- Study your geography. You can monitor tree, grass, weed and mold spore counts for your particular geographic area. That way you can determine when it might be best to stay indoors, thus minimizing exposure to irritating allergens.
- Watch the weather. You should be advised that the weather also plays a role in pollen count fluctuations. For example, counts tend to be lower during and after rain showers because the pollen gets washed away. Windy days, however, can be irritating because more pollen becomes airborne, increasing the opportunity for contact with the eyes, nose and lungs.
- Keep an eye on the clock. Pollen shedding is most common during the early morning hours. It is best to keep your windows closed so that allergens do not cause problems.
- Be nice to your eyes. When avoidance is not an option, there are still steps that you can take to reduce the allergen’s impact and increase ocular comfort. Wearing glasses or sunglasses can reduce the chance of pollen entering the eye. Rubbing itchy eyes can cause mast cell degranulation, which maintains the allergic cycle and should be avoided. Instead, apply cold compresses and artificial tears called "lubricant eye drops" to flush the pollen from the eyes. Anything you put in the eye for allergic conjunctivitis could be refrigerated. Cool eye masks can also be soothing.
- Limit contact lens wear. Contact lens wearers tend to be disproportionately affected by allergy. Even if you are a successful contact lens wearer for most of the year, allergy season can make you quite uncomfortable, particularly when contacts are worn for extended periods of time. The airborne allergens tend to accumulate, binding to the contacts, getting trapped and causing discomfort. Contacts should be avoided if you have a lot of itching and discomfort with the lenses.
- Clear the air. Patients can remove pollens from their environment by using air-conditioning filters designed to trap irritating allergens, which are available for both the home and automobile installation. Cleaning floors with a damp mop, instead of sweeping, keeps allergens that are brought into the home on feet and clothing from becoming airborne, this can aggravate symptoms. Fluff bed pillows or stuffed animals if slept with in the dryer for 15 minutes every 2-4 weeks.
- Shower before you go to bed. Showering and washing hair at night reduces the chance of prolonged and concentrated exposure to pollens while sleeping. Allergen-resistant pillows can be a tremendous help as well.
If these methods do not succeed, you may need to make an appointment that may result in prescription of other eye drops to help.
This message was brought to you by Friedberg Eye Associates and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.