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Managing eye allergy symptoms can be frustrating. Use these strategies to prevent flare-ups, or quickly bounce back from them.
Does allergy season wreak havoc on your eyes (and nose, throat, and sinuses)? Sure, you may not be able to stifle every sniffle or sneeze once the pollen starts swirling. But there’s more you can do to ease your eye symptoms than you might think.
“A lot of my patients who have very bad seasonal or environmental allergies are just so used to having all these allergy symptoms. They believe this is typical for them to experience,” says Monica Baker, O.D. She’s an optometrist with Cypress Ophthalmology Group, located inside America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Inglewood, California.
Eye allergies occur when you come in contact with an allergen, such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander. Your body then releases a chemical called histamine, which triggers itchiness, redness, and tearing in the eyes.
Allergies affect more than 50 million people in the U.S. But just because allergies are common doesn’t mean you have to put up with their symptoms. Use these tips and tricks to ward off an eye allergy flare-up before it starts — or at least bounce back faster.
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Eye Allergy Flare-up Fighter #1: Schedule an Eye Exam
Even if you were never formally diagnosed with allergies, your optometrist can likely tell if allergies are responsible for your eye symptoms. To do so, they use a slit lamp (a fancy microscope that contains a bright light) to examine the surface of your eye.
In people with allergies, “I see more redness, some dryness, a little bit of swelling, and sometimes a bit of mucus or discharge,” Dr. Baker says. “That’s a hint that it might be allergies.”
In fact, Dr. Baker is often the first one to speak up during an appointment — not the patient. “I’m the one who brings it up,” she says, “and then they say, ‘Yeah, it’s something that bothers me.’”
Schedule a checkup with your optometrist if you’re experiencing allergy symptoms in your eyes, such as redness, itchiness, and irritation.
Eye Allergy Flare-up Fighter #2: Know Your Allergy Triggers
Allergens are everywhere, so avoiding them altogether may not be possible. But you can minimize how many allergens you’re exposed to at once.
If you’re allergic to pollen, for example, you may want to avoid staying outdoors in the evenings during the spring and summer. That’s when pollen counts can be high. Ragweed tends to be out in full force during the mornings in the late summer and early fall.
If you’re allergic to pet dander (i.e., dead skin flakes), you may have to avoid certain types of animals, such as dogs or cats, or at least minimize the amount of time you spend in the same room with them.
“Once you know your triggers, you can try to be more cautious in those types of environments,” Dr. Baker says.
There’s one eye allergy trigger you do have control over: makeup. “When people apply powders and concealers to their undereye circles, they can get a little too close to the lashes,” Dr. Baker says. “That triggers a lot of inflammation.” The next time you wear makeup under your eyes, stop short of applying it to your lash line.
Eye Allergy Flare-up Fighter #3: Allergen-Proof Your Home
Indoor allergens, such as dust mites and mold, can be even trickier to avoid than outdoor allergens. To limit the growth of mold, try lowering the humidity levels in your home to between 30% and 50%. A humidity monitor, called a hygrometer, can help you check it.
Wipe up any moisture or standing water right away. Vent appliances that create moisture, such as clothes dryers and stoves, to the outside. Run the bathroom fan or open a window while you shower. You can also use a dehumidifier to reduce humidity in your home.
To battle dust mites, first tackle your bedroom — the room you’re in for seven to eight hours straight. Use “mite-proof” covers on your pillows and comforter, and regularly wash your bedding in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
Eye Allergy Flare-up Fighter #4: Switch to Daily Contact Lenses
Airborne allergens can land on the surface of your contact lenses. If you keep those same contacts in your eyes for days (or weeks), you risk irritating your eyes, Dr. Baker says. By switching to daily disposable lenses — which are thrown away every night and replaced with a new pair every morning — you’ll start each day with a fresh pair.
Don’t want to give up your extended-wear lenses for good? Try alternating between your contacts and glasses. Giving your eyes a break from your contacts can help keep the allergens off the surface of your eyes and give you some much-needed relief, she says.
Eye Allergy Flare-up Fighter #5: Wear Sunglasses
Sunglasses not only help shield your eyes from pesky pollen, mold, and other outdoor allergens, but they also provide an extra layer of protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can also harm your eyes in the long run, Dr. Baker says.
The best sunglasses for allergy sufferers tend to be those with larger, wraparound frames, which shield your eyes better from pollen and wind. Learn more by reading “Sunglasses for Eye Health: The Definitive Buyer’s Guide” here.
Eye Allergy Flare-up Fighter #6. Use Artificial Tears
Although prescription eyedrops (such as antihistamines) are available, many people will find relief with over-the-counter eyedrops, Dr. Baker says.
Preservative-free artificial tears, for example, can wash away some of the allergens that may be lingering on the surface of your eyes. They can also provide extra moisture to dry, irritated eyes, she says. Use them daily during allergy season.
She recommends trying Zaditor® and Pataday®, but ask your optometrist to recommend one that’s right for you.
Eye Allergy Flare-up Fighter #7: Resist the Urge to Rub Your Eyes
Rubbing your eyes provides quick relief, but it comes at a cost. It will trigger the release of more histamine, which causes more inflammation, Dr. Baker explains.
“The more we rub our eyes, the more the overall itchiness will come back,” she says.
Plus, your hands are, well, not exactly sterile. “Not everyone is going to wash their hands for 20 seconds before they rub their eyes,” she says. “And whatever is on our hands does not belong on the surface of our eyes.” So do yourself a favor and keep your hands away from your face.
For a quick way to temporarily ease the itch, apply a cool compress to your eyes instead.