With the record-breaking cold and snow the country experienced this winter, spring will be a much welcomed relief. But, for many Americans who suffer from allergies, warmer weather brings the onset of sneezing, coughing and itchy, watery eyes.
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), eye allergies, also called “allergic conjunctivitis,” are a reaction to indoor and outdoor allergens – pollen, mold, dust mites and pet dander – that get in the eyes and cause inflammation of the tissue that lines the inner eyelid.
While eye allergies can affect anyone, spring can be particularly hard on contact lens wearers. Even if you don’t generally experience problems wearing contacts throughout most of the year, allergy season can make contacts uncomfortable. Extended wear time and infrequent lens replacement are two of the main reasons contact lens wearers face more prevalent symptoms.
W. Lee Ball, O.D., staff optometrist, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, Boston, recommends contact lens wearers consider the following tips to make the spring season more comfortable:
– Talk to your optometrist about changing your cleaning method or using single-use contact lenses.
– If possible, reduce contact lens wearing time. Otherwise, use eye drops as prescribed by a doctor of optometry.
When it comes to treating symptoms of allergies, the American Eye-Q®, a recent nationwide survey commissioned by the American Optometric Association, found almost half (44 percent) of allergy suffers use antihistamines or other medications to treat their symptoms. While antihistamines can help with typical symptoms like runny noses and sneezing, the medication can make ocular symptoms worse by reducing tear quality and quantity.
“To effectively treat and relieve the symptoms caused by eye allergies, patients should see their optometrist,” said Dr. Ball. “In most cases, we can soothe allergy-related conjunctivitis with prescriptions or over-the-counter eye drops depending on the patient and his or her medical history.”
Eye-Q® respondents also indicated that eye allergies can be a nuisance and interfere with participating in recreational outdoor activities (32 percent); sleep (29 percent) and the ability to think or concentrate (28 percent). Fortunately, eye allergies can be curtailed and sometimes even prevented by following these recommendations from the AOA:
– Don’t touch or rub your eyes.
– Wash hands often with soap and water.
– Wash bed linens and pillowcases in hot water and detergent to reduce allergens.
– Avoid sharing, and in some cases, wearing eye makeup.
– Never share contact lenses or contact lens cases with someone else.
Beyond discussing allergy relief with your optometrist, the AOA also recommends adults have yearly eye exams. Based on an individual’s eye health and the severity of their eye allergies, the eye doctor may recommend more frequent visits.
About the survey
The fifth annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB). From April 14-21, 2010, using an online methodology, PSB interviewed 1,007 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. general population. (Margin of error at 95 percent confidence level)
American Optometric Association