All about Eye Allergies: Allergy Awareness Week

Medically reviewed by Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts.

This Allergy Awareness Week, which will take place between April 22nd and 26th, 2024, discover everything you need to know about eye allergies. This informative article will provide you with a detailed understanding of eye allergy symptoms, their underlying causes, potential triggers, effective treatment options, and how to effectively manage eye allergies to minimise their impact on your daily life.

eye-stonishing facts about eye allergies

What are eye allergies?

Eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis or ocular allergies, are triggered by the same irritants that cause sneezing, a runny nose, itchiness, and other allergy symptoms. Common airborne allergens include dust, pollen, pet dander, and mould. When these irritants affect the conjunctivitis and eyelids, they cause eye allergies. Unlike other types of conjunctivitis, eye allergies cannot spread from person to person. Even allergens such as food and insect stings that do not come into direct contact with the eyes can still cause irritation.

Certain cosmetic products, makeup, and eye drops can also cause eye allergies. It is essential to test products with small drops before using them in full. It is also recommended to read product labels and consult with an eye care professional if there are any doubts or concerns. Using preservative-free eye drops is also advisable since they are less likely to cause irritation.

How do you know if you have eye allergies?

There are several indications that suggest an allergic reaction in your eye. However, to confirm whether these symptoms are related to an eye allergy, it is best to consult a doctor or an eye care professional for a medical diagnosis.

Eye allergy symptoms

The symptoms of an eye allergy can include the following:

  • Red eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Swollen eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Tearing/watery discharge
  • A burning sensation in the eye
  • A foreign body sensation (feeling like there is grit or dirt in your eyes)
  • Puffiness

Eye allergies can sometimes be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nasal allergies, which may cause an itchy or stuffy nose and sneezing. Additionally, eczema can also be present in some cases. However, eye allergies can also occur independently without any other symptoms.

Eye allergy triggers

There are a variety of eye allergy triggers, including:

  • Outdoor allergens - pollen
  • Indoor allergens - pet dander, mould, dust mites
  • Irritants - such as perfume and cigarette smoke

How to deal with eye allergies - management and treatment

Though you may not be able to avoid an eye allergy altogether, you can take several measures to reduce its symptoms.

You can limit your outdoor exposure by:

  • Checking the pollen count every morning to assess your risk of allergies. The pollen count is usually highest in the mid-morning or early evening. Many individuals experience seasonal allergies during spring when the pollen count is high. This is often referred to as hay fever.
  • Staying indoors or avoid areas with high pollen count, such as open fields of grass and flowers.
  • Wearing eyewear, such as glasses, can offer protection to your eyes and help prevent pollen from getting in. Wrap-around frames are a better choice as they provide more coverage and protection against airborne particles, pollen, and other allergens. Oversized sunglasses are also a good option as they cover a wider surface area.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes as it can cause irritation and worsen the discomfort.

Ways you can limit your indoor exposure by:

  • Mopping floors with a damp mop instead of dry dusting is more effective in limiting exposure to dust mites.
  • Washing your bedding on a regular basis with hot water to prevent dust mites from accumulating. This also helps to keep your bedding clean and fresh, ensuring a good night's sleep.
  • Minimising dampness and maintaining cleanliness in areas prone to mould growth to eliminate any mould.
  • Investing in a HEPA filter for your air conditioner can help trap any mould spores that may irritate your eyes.
  • Purchasing air purifiers with an allergy-trapping filter for your heating/cooling system.

You can limit your exposure to eye allergies caused by pets by:

  • Keeping yourself safe from germs and bacteria by always remembering to wash your hands thoroughly after touching any animal.
  • Keeping your pets out of the bedroom to avoid exposure to pet dander while sleeping.
  • Replacing carpeted floors with linoleum, tile, or wood, as these are easier to clean and less likely to trap pet dander and allergens.

Eye allergy diagnosis

Eye allergies have similar symptoms to some eye conditions. Therefore, it is crucial to get an accurate diagnosis to identify the root cause. To do this, you can consult an allergist or ophthalmologist who can perform tests to determine whether the symptoms are caused by an eye allergy or something else.

To diagnose an eye allergy, the ophthalmologist may use a microscope to examine the eye and look for swollen blood vessels on the surface. They may also take a culture scraping from the conjunctiva and test for specific white blood cells that indicate an eye allergy.

How do you get rid of eye allergies?

You may not be able to get rid of eye allergies for good; however, prescription eye drops and medications can reduce the symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe the following as well as eye drops for allergies:

  • Non-sedating oral antihistamines (please note, these may dry your eyes and can make your symptoms worse).
  • Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, involve injecting small amounts of the allergen over time to strengthen the immune system against it.

How to manage eye allergies

  • Carrying an eyewash kit is a good idea in case you need to rinse your eyes.
  • During allergy season, it's recommended to switch to daily contact lenses since they can be discarded after one use, reducing allergen and debris build-up.
  • Consider using Optase Allergy Eye Drops or Hycosan Dual Eye Drops, as they are both effective in soothing eye irritation and can be used with or without contact lenses.

Optase Allergy Eye Drops

Optase Allergy Eye Drops

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Hycosan Dual Eye Drops

Hycosan Dual Eye Drops

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  • It's best to avoid rubbing your eyes when experiencing allergy symptoms as this can release histamine, which may worsen the symptoms.
  • To relieve your eyes from any traces of pollen that may cause irritation when you sleep, wash your face with cool water in the evening. Alternatively, you can use Optase Tea Tree Oil Lid Wipes, which are individually wrapped and convenient to use on the go.

Optase Tea Tree Oil Lid Wipes

Optase Tea Tree Oil Lid Wipes

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  • Try to avoid using makeup which may cause additional irritation, look for hypoallergenic makeup if possible.

It is a good idea to seek advice from your doctor or optician as they can give you tailored advice based on your symptoms and discuss additional measures.

Eye drops for allergies

There are various eye drops which can help to relieve symptoms of eye allergies and it would be best to see an eye care professional to determine which ones are the best for you. Some are available over the counter at the pharmacy/optician, and other stronger medicines need a prescription.

Prescription eye drops

  • Antihistamine eye drops - these eye drops provide quick relief but it is only a short-term fix to reduce watery eyes, redness and swelling.
  • Mast cell stabiliser eye drops - if used before your eyes are exposed to allergens, these can prevent itching.
  • Antihistamine and mast cell stabiliser eye drops - some eye drops include both antihistamine and mast cell stabiliser to treat eye allergies.
  • Corticosteroid eye drops - these are used to treat chronic eye allergies. However, side effects of long-term use include cataracts and glaucoma, as well as the risk of infection. Do not use them without medical supervision.
  • Oral antihistamines – these work in the same way as the eye drops but will also treat other allergy symptoms such as a runny nose and sneezing.

How long do eye allergies last?

During pollen season, seasonal allergies typically last for 4-8 weeks. Other allergies can be triggered at any time, and an allergic reaction can persist as long as the allergen is present.

Can you get allergies in one eye?

Eye allergies usually affect both eyes, but if one eye is exposed to the allergen, it may cause an allergy in that eye only. For instance, if you rub only one eye with the allergen.

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