Dr. Val's Top 10 Solutions For Eye Allergies
Healthy Vision With Dr. Val
Healthy Vision With Dr. Val

Dr. Jones has found that there is a surprising lack of medical blogging about one particular body part: the eyes. Our eyes are incredibly important to our quality of life, and yet most of us mistakenly believe that if we see well, we can safely ignore those little globes.

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My Top 10 Solutions For Eye Allergies

Because of the unusually warm winter, this year’s allergy season will be longer and more intense than most years. Your body may already be showing signs of pollen allergy, including itchy, puffy eyes, runny nose, and frequent sneezing. I myself have been struggling with eye symptoms lately, and so I interviewed Dr. Paul Karpecki, an optometrist and dry eye expert who lives in a state with one of the highest pollen counts in the USA: Kentucky! Please listen to our conversation here or by clicking play below.

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I thought I’d share my favorite tips for reducing your exposure to pollen, and how to treat your symptoms if those sticky little plant parts have lodged themselves in your eyes! [Check out my ABC news interview here].

As you’ve heard it said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The very best way to avoid uncomfortable eye allergies is to reduce your exposure to pollen. That may sound impossible at first, but there are some simple things you can do that can really help reduce your symptoms.

1. Know the pollen count.

When pollen levels are extra high, try to avoid outdoor activity. Local weather channels, or www.weather.com have “pollen casts” that can predict when counts will be especially high. Windy days, and daytime hours (when flowering trees and plants have their petals wide open) are especially troublesome. If you’d planned to exercise, run errands, or garden outside, try to rearrange your schedule or select indoor alternatives.

2. Wear pollen protection.

Wrap-around sunglasses can reduce the amount of pollen that sticks to your eyes. Headscarfs and hats can prevent pollen from clinging to hair. It’s important to cover yourself as much as possible so that you don’t inadvertently bring pollen indoors, where it can get on your pillows, bed sheets, and furniture—further lengthening your exposure time.

3. Roll up your windows.

When the weather is warm and it’s sunny outside we often feel like opening our windows to breathe some fresh air. Remember, though, that clouds of plant pollen could be wafting into your home or car when you do this. Use the air conditioner instead, and be sure to change the filter regularly. HEPA filters can also help to filter pollen out of the air.

4. Wash your face and hands frequently.

When you come in from the outdoors, imagine that you have a thin film of pollen on your exposed skin. Washing that layer off may reduce your allergy symptoms. Consider a full body shower if your legs and arms were exposed.

5. Use daily disposable contact lenses.  

Pollen is especially good at sticking to moist surfaces such as your eyes, contact lenses, and your nose and throat tissues. Although rinsing and cleaning your contact lenses frequently may reduce the amount of pollen stuck to them, the best way to be sure that you are removing all the pollen is to put in a fresh pair of lenses each day, or when your symptoms are extra irritating. I have found that switching from reusable wear lenses to daily disposables (during times when pollen counts are high) has substantially reduced my symptoms.

6. Rinse your eyes often.

Artificial tears can help to wash away pollen from eye tissues. You can find many different brands of saline-based solutions at your local pharmacy.

7. Don’t rub your eyes.

There’s nothing more tempting than to rub your eyes when they feel itchy. Unfortunately, that is one of the best ways to worsen eye allergy symptoms. This is because our immune systems send little cells called “mast cells” to areas exposed to pollen. Mast cells contain chemicals (including histamine) meant to destroy pollen and also attract more of themselves to the area. When you rub your eyes, you crush the mast cells, flooding the eye tissues with more histamine and itch-producing chemicals. It’s much better to rinse your eyes with artificial tears (or use anti-histamine eye drops) if they are itchy.

So what do you do if you’ve already been exposed to pollen and you need symptom relief? My top three suggestions are:

1. Try over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

Anti-histamine medications come in topical and systemic forms. If your allergy symptoms primarily involve your eyes, consider anti-histamine eye drops. They can relieve symptoms for up to twelve hours with just one drop in each eye. If your nose, sinuses, and/or throat are also bothering you, you may want to try an oral anti-histamine and/or decongestant. Be sure to check the Drug Facts labels on all OTC medications, and make yourself aware of possible side effects, such as drowsiness, before you take the medicine.

2. Use prescription medicines if needed.

For severe allergies that don’t respond to OTC medications, there are advanced therapies that can be tried. Many of these medications involve steroids, immune-modulating agents, and “allergy shots.” Your primary care physician or allergist can help you determine which treatments may be right for you.

3. Talk to your eye doctor.

Even though it’s recommended that most people see their eye doctor at least once a year for a general check-up, many of us forget to do it. Use eye allergy season as a reminder to get your annual eye exam—you may be really glad you did!

For more information about eye exams, or to find an eye doctor near you, check out the American Optometric Association website.

For more information about eye allergies, check out the Eye Health & Allergies at the ACUVUE® website.


Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.

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About the Author

Val Jones is passionate about preventative medicine, nutrition, exercise, and healthy vision.