For many people in Georgia, springtime means allergies. Not only does the skyrocketing pollen count cause sneezing, sniffling, and nasal congestion, but it can also affect the eyes as well, making them itch and burn while leaving them red and watery. A recent study published online in the journal Ophthalmology has also linked high pollen levels to an increased incidence of dry eye, which can cause further burning, irritation and even blurred vision. At Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, we treat eye problems stemming from many different sources, including those caused by springtime allergies.
Eye allergies, also called ocular allergies or allergic conjunctivitis, affect one in five Americans. Airborne allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander and mold come into contact with the conjunctiva, a mucous membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the whites of the eyes. Although these allergens are technically harmless, the body’s immune system responds as though they were an invading threat, producing antibodies that cause the eyes to release histamine and other substances that make the eyes red, itchy, and watery. In severe cases, the inflammation can even cause short-term blurriness or other changes in vision, mimicking the symptoms of refractive errors like myopia or astigmatism.
These seasonal allergies happen only at certain times of the year, typically during early spring, through summer, and into autumn, when pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds and spores from molds are most prevalent. Often the easiest way to control the symptoms is by simply limiting exposure to the allergy triggers. Remain indoors when pollen counts are highest, usually in mid-morning and early evening. Window fans can draw in pollen and mold spores, so close the windows and run the air conditioner, and clean your floors frequently with a damp mop, as sweeping tends to stir up rather than get rid of allergens. If you must go out, eyeglasses or big sunglasses can help block pollen from the eyes and driving with the windows closed and the air conditioner running can make you significantly more comfortable. Finally, don’t rub your eyes. That’s likely to make symptoms worse. Try cool compresses instead. If symptoms still persist, a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications can also provide both short and long term relief.
Although the allergens that cause allergic conjunctivitis can be both irritating and unsightly, they cannot cause any long term damage to the eyes. However, some of the symptoms associated with eye allergies, such as the reddening of the scelera, or white portion of the eye, may potentially be the result of more serious eye conditions, including infections, glaucoma, or corneal ulcers. If you have noticed persistent symptoms and are unable to pinpoint a cause, a thorough medical eye exam from board certified ophthalmologist Dr. William Segal or comprehensive consultative optometrist Dr. Marc Lay may be necessary to fully evaluate your eye needs.
If you have further questions about any of the services we offer, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more tips for healthy eyes.