Spring is here, and for many of us that means the arrival of the inevitable seasonal allergies. In fact, The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that up to 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children in the United States have seasonal allergies.
Did you know that pollen is the biggest trigger of spring allergies? When your body comes in contact with pollen, your immune system mistakenly sees it as a harmful substance. In an attempt to protect your body, it starts a chain reaction that prompts some of the body’s cells to release histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream. And it’s the histamine that leads to the itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, and swollen eyelids (also known as allergic conjunctivitis) that leave us searching for relief.
Just because your eyes aren’t happy with the pollen in the air, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the new season. Below are tips and tricks for protecting your eyes from dreaded spring allergies.
8 Tips for Preventing Allergic, Itchy, Watery Eyes
1. Always wash hands and face after coming in from outdoors to remove pollen. Change your clothes immediately after outdoor activities, and have your children change their clothes when they come in from playing outside.
2. Wash your hair more frequently since pollen can linger in your hair, exposing you to more of the allergens.
3. Avoid rubbing your eyes if/when they itch. Rubbing actually releases more histamine which in turn will create further eye irritation.
4. Give your eyes a break from wearing contacts The surface of the lenses can be a magnet for airborne allergens.
5. Apply a cold compress or washcloth to reduce eye swelling and get quick eye relief. Heat will exacerbate ocular allergies, so avoid warm compresses.
6. Use artificial tear eye drops regularly to flush allergens out of your eyes. Try to pick drops that do not “get the red out,” since they often contain ingredients that may cause “rebound redness” if used too frequently (in other words, they make your eyes even more red and uncomfortable than if you didn’t use drops at all!). If you use drops more than 1-2x/day, try using preservative-free artificial tears, which come in single-use vials.
7. If at-home eye remedies and artificial tears do not do the trick, consider an antihistamine eye drop. Ketotifen fumarate (its generic name) is a great over-the-counter antihistamine eye drop that’s used 1-2x/day per eye during allergic flare-ups.
8. Wear sunglasses outside to protect the surface of your eyes from direct contact with allergens. Most sunglasses have larger lenses than everyday eyeglasses and, therefore, provide more protection.
If your symptoms do not improve, or they seem to get worse, oral antihistamines or other systemic allergy medication may also help contain your allergies. See your primary care doctor to find out if allergy medication is right for you.