Ocular Allergies and Eye Disease: An Uncomfortable Combination

spring flowersSpringtime is so beautiful:  the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and the temps are mild. Unfortunately, sometimes all of this beauty can bring a whole lot of misery! The sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes are the hallmarks of seasonal allergies that arrive with the spring.

Allergy eye symptoms can be particularly difficult for those who are already dealing with an underlying eye health condition. Here are some suggestions for safely relieving ocular allergy symptoms and a few precautions to be aware of for specific eye health conditions.

It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffers from at least one type of allergy. Ocular allergies, or allergic conjunctivitis, occur when the membrane covering the eye and the lining of the eyelid react to an allergen and result in redness, itching, tearing, swelling, and light sensitivity. Ocular allergies can happen independently or in conjunction with other allergy symptoms (such as nasal or upper respiratory). Typical treatments to ease symptoms involve avoiding the offending allergen as much as possible, rinsing the irritants out of the eye with saline drops, and using antihistamine eye drops and oral medications. If these measures do not provide adequate relief, stronger medications can be prescribed by your physician.

Many of the ocular allergy symptoms are identical to those experienced by dry eye sufferers. The combination of ocular allergies and dry eye can exacerbate both conditions as well as make diagnosis and treatment challenging. In fact, a 2013 study has shown that in patients with dry eye, exposure to adverse environmental conditions causes a disturbance of the ocular surface that can increase allergic reactions. Patients like these can become stuck in a cycle of irritants involving the environment, dry eye, and allergy. Without effective treatment to break the cycle, symptoms continue and can increase over time.

People with keratoconus also face additional challenges if they experience ocular allergies. The Spring 2013 edition of the National Keratoconus Foundation (NKCF) newsletter addresses these problems. There is a high correlation of ocular allergies and keratoconus in addition to a strong association with rubbing of the eyes. Itchy eyes prompt rubbing of the eye which worsens both eye conditions. Patients are advised to avoid rubbing the eyes in order to prevent exacerbation of symptoms and potential long-term damage to the eye. For more detailed information on keratoconus and allergies, the NKCF has posted a video on this topic from one of their recent patient seminars.

Standard treatment for ocular allergies typically involves the use of antihistamines, both eye drops and oral medications. Antihistamines can be very drying and, in turn, present difficulty for patients with dry eye and keratoconus as the drying action of the medications increases symptoms of these eye conditions. Some suggested alternative remedies to ease ocular symptoms include:

  • Avoid bringing allergens into the home by removing shoes and outerwear before going inside
  • Bathe before bedtime to remove pollens and change bedding often
  • Keep windows/doors closed to keep out pollen and change furnace/air conditioner filters frequently
  • Apply cool compresses to ease swelling and itching

If symptoms do not ease with these home-care measures, it is best to consult with your eye health provider to obtain greater relief and help manage your underlying condition.

A question we often get asked by potential BostonSight® PROSE patients is whether allergies will prevent successful BostonSight PROSE device use. The answer is no. While ocular allergies typically produce greater eye itching and mucus than for other patients, these allergies do not prevent successful PROSE treatment. Although some patients with ocular allergies are unable to tolerate contact lenses, PROSE device care protocols avoid agents that trigger allergies and PROSE devices function differently than contact lenses. PROSE users with ocular allergies may require treatment for these allergies in conjunction with PROSE treatment.

Do you have any tips for easing your allergy eye symptoms during the peak season? Please share them here with us.