Q: Every fall my allergies act up and my eyes feel miserable. How can I get some relief?
Dr. Warstadt: You’re not alone. One out of five Americans has allergies, and half of the allergy sufferers have itchy eyes. Here’s how to determine if your symptoms are caused by allergies: If your eyes are red and itchy, you likely have allergies. If your eyes are burning, you might have dry eye. If you wake up with gooey eyes, you may have a bacterial or viral infection.
Fall allergies are associated with hay fever. The best thing you can do when high amounts of pollen are in the air is to avoid the problem if possible. That means staying indoors, closing the windows and turning the air conditioning on. Change air conditioner filters monthly if possible. If you have to go outdoors, wear a hat and sunglasses to avoid pollen blowing into your eyes. When you return home, change and wash your clothes. Keep your eyes flushed out with eyewashes and artificial teardrops.
For the itchiness, you can use cold compresses—either a washcloth with cold water or wrapped around a cold pack. Don’t use a cold pack directly on your skin. If a cold compress doesn’t offer itch relief, choose your over-the-counter eyedrops carefully, avoiding the brands that reduce eye redness. They may initially do that, but then your eyes will get worse. Instead, look for antihistamine eye drops that are made with ketotifen, found in many brands. Consider avoiding antihistamines pills and capsules, if you can, because they can cause drowsiness and dry eyes.
If your allergies are severe, and over-the-counter eye drops don’t work, your eye doctor may prescribe a mast-cell stabilizer. This medication prevents mast cells from releasing the histamines that make your eyes itch. If you require something stronger, some doctors might prescribe steroid medications. This should be for extreme cases, and only for short amounts of time.
Special care for contact lens wearers during allergy season you wear contact lenses, opt for daily disposable lenses to reduce the amount of pollen in your eye. If your allergies are severe, discontinue contact lens use until the worst of the allergy season is over. Make sure you have a backup pair of eyeglasses for those times.
Hopefully, with all of these precautions and treatments at your disposal, you will be able to comfortably get through the allergy season.