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Allergies and Your Eyes

A Discussion about Dry Eye with Dr. Lorena Castaneda of Optomedica Eye Consultants

What are the common symptoms of allergies?

The most common symptoms of ocular or allergic reactions in the eyes include red, itchy, burning eyes, stringy eye discharge, and puffy eyes. In some instances, blurred vision may also occur

How do allergies directly affect the eyes?

Like in all allergic responses in the body, eye allergies are caused by a cascade of events that are regulated by a person's immune system. The problem begins when the conjunctiva which is the mucous membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the white of the eyes, comes into contact with something that is irritating and is seen as a “threat” by the immune system. The immune system then, tries to fight off that threat by making antibodies. This in turn, causes the eyes to release Histamine, among other things. The release of Histamine is what makes the eyes to be itchy, red and watery.

What is meant by the term allergic conjunctivitis? Is that the same as “pink eye”?

Allergic conjunctivitis is the medical term we use to describe eye allergies. The term “Pink eye” is used to describe eye infections, generally bacterial in nature. They are then, different since one in mediated by the person's immune system in the other is cause by bacteria. They are also both, treated very differently.

What is the difference between seasonal and perennial allergies? How would I know the difference?

There are two types of allergies: Seasonal, which are more common, and perennial. Seasonal allergies happen only at certain times of the year. They usually occur in early Spring through Summer and into Fall. They are caused by a person's exposure to “allergens” in the air such as pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds, spores, and also molds. Perennial allergies happen throughout the entire year. They are due to exposure to dust, mites, feathers, and animal dander. Other substances such as perfumes, smoke, air pollution, cosmetics and
certain medicines can also cause this type of allergies.

Can allergies do permanent damage to my eyes?

Any condition of the eye that is left untreated or under treated has the potential of causing damage to the eye. Eye allergies are not the exception for they can cause acute inflammation, scarring of the cornea, blurriness, and acute pain in the eye. Most of these symptoms can be reversed once treatment is instituted and followed and the allergy is controlled and is kept under controlled.

What are the treatment options available for this condition?

There are several treatments available at our optometry practice in Northwest Houston, to treat eye allergies. Avoiding anything that can trigger an allergic reaction is the main treatment in any case of allergies. Over the counter oral antihistamines can be of help, but patient must be aware they can also dry their eyes. Antihistamine drops may also be prescribed which can be used once or twice a day. These can be combined with non-preserved Artificial Tears as well as cool compresses to assist with the inflammation.

In acute cases an anti-inflammatory may be prescribed in a drop form to further assist in decreasing the inflammation. However, this is done only for a very short period of time. An important aspect of allergic reactions is to realize that they cannot be cured but only controlled, and that it is very important to do so very early on so that the symptoms are not complicated or prolonged.