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Eye Allergies (Itchy, Red, and/or Burning Eyes)?

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In theory, we only have to worry about seasonal allergies once or twice a year for a few weeks. However, the reality is that throughout much of Canada, “allergy season” can persist for most of the year to some degree, depending on the levels of pollen and other allergens. We are quick to treat uncomfortable nasal allergy symptoms, but treating eye symptoms should be part of that.

While eye allergies are not in themselves dangerous, they are often accompanied by symptoms that are uncomfortable enough that we can’t always focus on what we’re doing. This could potentially be a safety issue. Also, they can contribute to a higher risk of developing dry eye syndrome, which could take special therapy to clear up.

Eye Allergies

Many eye allergies share common symptoms such as itchy, burning, and red eyes. However, several types of eye allergies stem from different triggers or causes, and the symptoms may vary slightly between them.

Seasonal Allergies

Common symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Clear, watery discharge

Seasonal allergies is the common name for seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) or perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC). SAC and PAC both share virtually the same symptoms. Someone who suffers from SAC will likely develop symptoms in the late spring and early summer when pollen is out in full force.

Unlike SAC, someone suffering from PAC can develop symptoms anytime throughout the year as the reaction is typically from things like dust mites, pet dander, mould, and other household allergens. On the plus side, PAC symptoms are usually milder.

In addition to the eye allergy symptoms, these types of allergies are usually accompanied by the common seasonal symptoms of a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing.

Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis

Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling like there’s a foreign object in the eye
  • Itching
  • Light sensitivity
  • Thick mucus production with excessive tear production

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is less common but more serious than PAC or SAC. These allergies can occur year round, but they will often worsen throughout allergy season. Because it can actually impair your vision, it’s important to deal with vernal keratoconjunctivitis.

Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis

Common symptoms include:

  • Intense itchy feeling
  • Burning and redness
  • Excessive, thick mucus production which can cause eyelids to stick together

Just like vernal, atopic keratoconjunctivitis can occur all year round and is typically more severe during the winter. It also shares many of the same symptoms. One difference is that if it’s left untreated, the result can be scarring of the cornea.

Contact Allergic Conjunctivitis

Common symptoms include:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Mucousy discharge
  • Contact lens discomfort

Unlike the other eye allergies whose roots are in external sources such as pollen or pet dander, contact allergic conjunctivitis is caused by irritation from contact lenses. It can be the lens themselves if they don’t fit properly or from a protein buildup on the lenses.

a close up image of a red eye experiencing allergies

Eye Allergy Treatment

There is no single magic bullet to cure all allergy symptoms. However, several effective treatments can provide relief from those itchy, burning, and red eyes. 

Avoiding Allergens

It’s not always possible to avoid allergens, but there are a few things you can do to minimize your contact with them. For example, if pollen counts are high outside, you should keep windows closed. If you’re going outside, wear sunglasses to prevent pollen from easily getting to your eyes.

Also, showering before bed and regularly washing your bedding is a good idea. For other allergens like mould or pet dander, you’ll want to ensure that surfaces are cleaned and disinfected regularly.

Medication

Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines often have ingredients to help with eye allergy symptoms in addition to dealing with sneezing and runny noses. You can also get OTC eye drops to help with your symptoms.

If OTC medications aren’t strong enough, your optometrist may be able to prescribe something more potent. In some cases, allergy shots may be your best treatment option. These are things you can discuss with your doctor.

The Plan to Beat Eye Allergies

As we mentioned, there’s no one-size-fits-all cure for eye allergies. The most likely scenario is that you’ll need to use several strategies to find consistent relief. For example, you’ll likely need a combination of oral or eye medications and also need to avoid allergens as best you can.

One significant thing to remember is to avoid rubbing. Often this is the first thing you want to do when your eyes are itchy and burning. But rubbing your eyes will not help; it can actually cause more problems. Not only is it possible to scratch your eye, but there’s also the chance you’ll introduce bacteria or other contaminants and cause an actual infection instead of just an irritated reaction.

Find Out More About Symptom Relief

It can be quite an uncomfortable shock if you’ve never experienced many eye allergy symptoms. And if home remedies don’t offer any relief, it may be worth having an eye examination to rule out the possibility of an infection in your eye, commonly known as pink eye. Allergies and pink eye share many common symptoms.

Give our office a call today, and the helpful staff at Orillia Optometry are happy to answer any questions you have. One of our optometrists can examine your eyes and come up with a treatment plan so that you can enjoy your summer.

Dr Moore

Written by Shawn Moore

Dr. Moore began his career in Barrie, moved to Orillia, and purchased what is now Orillia Optometry in 2001. Dr. Moore thoroughly enjoys primary care optometry, but his areas of interest are vision therapy, concussion management, contact lenses / multifocal contact lenses, and dry eye.

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