by Melissa Hay, Optometrist & owner of Visique Milford Optometrists
At least 20% of our population suffer from allergic conjunctivitis or some form of ocular allergy. The most common symptom of this is that your eyes are itchy.
To us, conjunctivitis is a broad term, which encompasses any inflammation to the surface of your eye – which is called your conjunctiva. The classic type of conjunctivitis that most people think about is bacterial infections – when they wake up and their eye is all crusty, sore and slightly swollen. When you have allergic conjunctivitis your eyes are red, swollen but most importantly they are itchy. If they aren’t itchy, then it is unlikely to be an allergy.
If your parents or other members of your family have allergies, then it makes you more susceptible to developing them. If anyone in your family has asthma, eczema and hay fever it places you at risk of developing eye allergies.
Our environment, like air pollution, plants and weather affect allergies. It might be the neighbour’s privet that sets you off. Pollen spikes during spring and summer. Dust and mould can also contribute to allergies all year round. But I also find that when someone travels to a different country or environment their eyes aren’t familiar with then they are likely to get irritated eyes.
Although it’s so tempting to rub your eyes when they are itchy, you are best not to. Rubbing the eyes can release more mast cells, which actually cause the allergic response to be worse. Also, excessive rubbing over your life time can cause your eyelids to become droopy.
We also feel there is a link between dry eye and allergic eyes. If you don’t have enough moisture or lubrication in your eyes, then it means your eyes can not rinse out any allergen.
To prevent allergic eyes:
• Wear close wrapping glasses or sunglasses to slow tear evaporation and to protect the eye.
• Indoors you could use an air cleaner to filter the dust and other particles from the atmosphere. A humidifier might also help to add moisture to the air, which prevents your eyes from drying out.
• Omega3 supplements are also an option to improve lubrication to the eye.
To manage your allergic eyes:
• The best thing you can start with is to avoid the allergen. But, if that is your neighbour’s hedge or your precious cat, it can be very hard to do.
• The next thing we’d suggest would be a cold flannel. The cold naturally causes the cells in the eye to calm down and it also takes away any swelling.
• You could also use a lubricating drop just to rinse and moisturise. There are plenty of specific eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis – so come and talk to any of our Visique optometrists or team members about your options.
If you feel you need to use an eyedrop, the best one to start with would be Systane. This is a lubricating drop that you can use, and it has minimal side effects. It will help the eye to heal and feel more comfortable, but also flush out anything that is irritating your eyes. To start you’d use it four times a day for a week.
The next best eye drop would be Patanol, which is only available with a prescription from either us or your GP. This is actually an allergy preventor and works to stabilise the mast cells to prevent them from reacting to things. You use this twice a day and also is a very safe drop. I would mention, that you should avoid ‘red-eye relief’ drops, used long term these can actually make it more likely for your eyes to flare-up.