People who have allergies are often quick to seek help for symptoms such as sneezing, sniffling, and nasal congestion. But allergies can affect the eyes, too. They can make your eyes red, itchy, burning, and watery, and cause swollen eyelids.
Summer is ending, you’re heading into fall. But you’re still sneezing and sniffling all day and into the night. What’s going on?
Odds are you’re among the 10% to 30% of Americans who suffer from hay fever, or allergic rhinitis. And most cases of hay fever are caused by an allergy to fall pollen from plants belonging to the genus Ambrosia -- more commonly known as ragweed.
Also called ocular allergies or allergic conjunctivitis, they pose little threat to eyesight other than temporary blurriness. But infections and other conditions can cause the same symptoms, so call your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve.
Like all allergies, eye allergies happen when your body overreacts to something. The immune system makes antibodies that cause your eyes to release histamine and other substances. This causes itching and red, watery eyes. Some people also have nasal allergies.
There are two types of eye allergies: seasonal, which are more common, and perennial.
Seasonal allergies happen at certain times of the year -- usually early spring through summer and into autumn. Triggers are allergens in the air, commonly pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds, as well as spores from molds.
Perennial allergies happen year-round. Major causes include dust mites, feathers (in bedding), and animal (pet) dander. Other substances, including perfumes, smoke, chlorine, air pollution, cosmetics, and certain medicines, can also play a role.
Sometimes, it’s easy to tell what causes an allergy -- for example, if symptoms strike when you go outside on a windy, high-pollen-count day, or when a pet climbs onto your lap. If your trigger isn’t clear, a doctor can give you tests to find out.
Do-It-Yourself Allergy Relief
The first thing to do is to avoid your triggers.
Stay indoors when pollen counts are highest, usually in mid-morning and early evening. Close the windows and run the air conditioner (window fans can draw in pollen and mold spores).
When you go out, wear eyeglasses or big sunglasses to block pollen from your eyes. Driving? Keep the windows closed and run the air conditioner.
To limit your exposure to dust mites, use special pillow covers that keep allergens out. Wash bedding frequently in hot water. If your mattress is more than a few years old, consider getting a new one.