What Is It and Why Does It Happen To Me?
First, let us talk about what allergies are, why we get them and the various types that affect us. Simply put, allergies are a normal inflammatory response of our body as it tries to get rid of materials and chemicals in contact with one of the body’s surfaces. In terms of our eyes, the conjunctiva, the thin translucent membrane that covers the inside of our eyelids and the white part of our eye is contaminated with pollen, animal dander, dust and other chemical irritants. Our body’s immune system is then recruited to get rid of these irritants. The actual process is complicated. Think of this as a waterfall of chemicals and immune cells that affect various parts of the body. Ultimately, there is a release of a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes the itching, burning, swelling, and redness of the ocular surface, as well as all other mucous membranes in our body such as our nose, throat and mouth.
Allergies come in many different forms. Some people suffer from seasonal allergies to things like pine pollen or ragweed. This type of allergy is usually very symptomatic but fortunately short lived. When the pollen goes away, so does the allergy. Other people suffer from perennial allergies to things like animal dander, dust, detergents, or even wool or other synthetic materials. These allergies are typically less symptomatic but present all year long. can also be made worse by conditions like dry eyes. Think of it like this, the function of your tears is to wash away irritants. If there is an abnormal amount of tears being made then the irritants and pollen are not washed away and stay in contact with the ocular surface for a longer period of time causing more inflammation.
What are the Symptoms?
Common symptoms of allergies include itchy, red eyes; running nose, head congestion and sneezing. Not all people get all of these symptoms though. Sometimes people can have the nasal issues without the eyes being involved and vice-versa. In ocular allergies, your eyelids also typically feel swollen or that there is something under the eyelids. What actually happens is that the conjunctiva gets little bumps on the underside of the eyelid, think of them as little hives.
How do we treat it?
The first step is to accurately determine the cause and type of allergies and then discuss treatment options. There are many therapies available to treat the various forms of allergies. The therapy that is right for you is dependant on the type and severity of allergies that you suffer from. Our goal is to not only make you more comfortable but also to prevent the long term damage that allergies have on your eyes. Seasonal allergies to pollen are treated very differently then perennial allergies which are due to a more constant exposure. People can have general allergies and no ocular problems or vice-versa. Treatment usually includes a combination of avoidance, cold compresses to reduce localized swelling, topical homeopathic remedies, topical antihistamines and steroids, and occasionally oral antihistamines such as Benadryl or nasal inhalers. In many cases the allergic response is advanced and treatments may not provide immediate results. Ideally, the sooner we can treat the allergies once they show up the better our chances for immediate relief. If you suffer from ocular allergies see us or your general physician for a consultation to make your eyes more comfortable. If you suffer from seasonal or even year round allergies make an appointment with eye Consultants so we can get a head of the allergies this year and make it a symptom free Spring.