It’s that time of year again, when the eyes are red, itchy and watery. Fall allergies may or may not affect the eyes. About 75 percent of people allergic to spring plants also have reactions to ragweed, the main culprit of fall allergies. Sometimes, fall allergies only affect the eyes while the nose/throat/chest/etc. remain unaffected. Let’s focus on eye allergies.
The important thing to remember is try not to rub your eyes. I know, I know – it can feel satisfying for a few moments and it can be automatic; even eye doctors rub their eyes! However, the main lesson is to TRY not to rub your eyes. Rubbing your eyes sends a cascade signal to your immune system to make more of the mediators responsible for your itchy symptoms. Rubbing your eyes can also cause swelling of delicate tissues, increased redness and more watering. Rubbing may temporarily feel helpful, but it makes the allergy symptoms worse. If you notice that you want to rub them or that you are currently rubbing them, try to use one of the helpful tricks below.
Here are helpful tricks to try INSTEAD of rubbing your eyes:
- Wash your hands and rinse your face, preferably with cold water. Cold helps alleviate itchy, red and puffy eyes.
- Remove make-up (if applicable).
- Wash your face, again with cold water if possible, avoiding soap in and around the eyes.
- Use a gentle, non-irritating face wipe or baby wipe to clean your eyelids, eyelashes, and surrounding eye areas.
- Place a cold compress on closed eyes.
- Use approved eye drops (see below) or contact lens solutions to rinse/flush your eyes to help remove particles that may be stuck in your eyes.
There are both good and bad eye drops available over the counter. It can be overwhelming for shoppers, since there are so many options available. When searching for an artificial tear drop (without medicine) to rinse out the eye, AVOID drops that say “get the red out,” “redness relief,” or “clear eyes.” These contain a medicine, such as “tetrahydrozoline” or “naphazoline” or a drug with the ending “-zoline,” that can be quite addictive. It will shrink your eye blood vessels temporarily and make your eyes look white, but the drug will eventually wear off. After this, the blood vessels will dilate, and the redness will return. Thus, you need more drops, more often to achieve the same “white eye” appearance to make your allergy eye symptoms go away.
There are great options for medicine eye drops or oral pills that effectively target allergies. Sometimes an oral allergy pill will resolve allergy symptoms that affect the eye and the body, but other times the eyes need more TLC with an eye drop. The fantastic news is that approved allergy eye drops have an incredibly safe profile and are well tolerated by most individuals. In the rare circumstance that someone is allergic to the medicine or to the preservatives in the allergy eye drops, please consult a doctor right away. Your eye doctor would be happy to recommend some prescription and/or over the counter allergy eye drops to try.
Please see your eye doctor for more advice on which allergy remedy/treatment would be best for you. Nothing compares to an in person visit, so the doctor can hear your symptoms, evaluate your eyes, and discuss your options.