Allergies affecting the eye are very common. The most common allergies are those related to pollen, particularly when the weather is warm and dry. An increasing number of eye allergy cases are related to medications and contact lens wear. Also, animal hair, dustmites, and certain cosmetics, such as mascara, face creams, and eyebrow pencil, can cause allergies that affect the eye. Touching or rubbing eyes after handling nail polish, soaps, or chemicals may cause an allergic reaction.
Allergy symptoms are usually temporary, and can include redness, itching, tearing, burning, stinging, and watery or stringy discharge. They are not usually severe enough to require medical attention.
Step one is to determine the cause of the allergy and remove it. If you cannot determine the cause for your allergies, an allergist can perform testing which oftentimes reveals the source.
- If it is a pet, keep him off the bed at night. Keep him well groomed, to reduce shedding. See your vet about special shampoos to cut down on dander.
- If your allergies are due to contact lens deposits, a switch to disposable lenses will usually improve the situation. If the contact lens solution is the culprit, we'll find another, more compatible solution.
- Dust mites and their excrement are another common indoor cause. Be sure to vacuum regularly, preferably with one of the new vacuums that has a HEPA filter. Change bed sheets at least weekly, and turn over your pillow halfway through the week--this has the added benefit of helping with acne.
- The air in your house contains a significant amount of human skin flakes and other allergens, and can be cleaned by purchasing an air purifier with HEPA filter.
- Dust masks can be worn while mowing grass or working on projects indoors that produce dust.
- Switching to different soaps, detergents, or makeup is sometimes the answer.
Step two is to try non-medicated eye drops.
- Artificial tears (AKA moisture drops, lubricating drops, rewetting drops) will dilute the allergic particles and reduce your symptoms. There are many brands out there, but I recommend the packages containing single-use containers, such as 'Refresh Tears'. These have no preservatives, which can cause their own allergies. Another good drop is 'GenTeal', which does have a preservative, but one which is quickly neutralized on contact with the eye. The nice thing about artificial tears is that they can be used an unlimited number of times per day, since they contain no medication.
Step three is to use medicated eye drops.
- Antihistamine/Vasoconstrictor drops are available over-the-counter. They go by such names as Opcon-A, Naphcon-A, and OcuHist. Sometimes, these are enough to provide adequate comfort.
- Other drops, which are available only by prescription, contain antihistamine and mast-cell-stabilizers. These dual-action drops are very effective, but also more costly.
When it comes to medicated eye drops, be sure to read the label--there are warnings and contraindications to their use. Remember too, that eye drop medications do get absorbed into the blood stream, just as if a pill were taken, so don't make the mistake of thinking that they are harmless.
Sometimes, dry eyes will intensify signs of allergies, and in that case, artificial tear drops may be all that is necessary to improve your comfort.
Again, dealing with eye allergies is mostly about dealing with symptoms. I will examine your eyes to see if you have significant signs of ocular allergies, and together we will determine what treatment is best for your particular circumstance.