Many people are quick to blame allergies when their eyes begin to water. It’s the go-to explanation, and sometimes, it’s the correct one. Eye allergies occur when your body overreacts to an irritant. Your immune system makes antibodies that prompt your eyes to release histamine and other substances. The result is itchy, red, watery eyes. There are two types of eye allergies: seasonal, which are more common, and perennial. Seasonal allergies surface at regular times of the year – typically early spring through summer and autumn. Triggers are allergens in the air, such as pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds, and spores from mold.
Perennial allergies happen at all times of the year. Causes include dust mites, feathers (in bedding), and pet dander. Other substances, including perfumes, smoke, chlorine, pollution, cosmetics, and certain medicines will contribute to the discomfort.
When it comes to avoiding “allergy eyes”, your best defense is to avoid your triggers. Stay indoors when pollen counts are highest, usually in the mid-morning and early evening. Close the windows and choose the air conditioner instead, because window fans can attract pollen and mold spores. When you go out, wear glasses or sunglasses to block pollen from your eyes. If you’re in the car, keep the windows closed and use the air conditioner. To limit your exposure to dust mites, use hypoallergenic pillow covers and wash your bedding often in hot water. Replace your mattress every few years for the best results. Clean floors with a damp mop rather than sweeping, which tends to stir up allergens rather than eliminate them. Consider replacing rugs and carpets, which trap and hold allergens, with hardwood, tile, or other floorings that are easier to keep clean. Don’t forget to use blinds instead of curtains. Prevent mold from growing inside your home by keeping the humidity under 50%. You may need to use a dehumidifier, especially in a damp climate. Make sure to clean the dehumidifier regularly.
Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can provide short or long-term help. Check with your eye doctor to see which option will be best for your situation. Sterile saline rinses and eye lubricants can be used to comfort irritated eyes and may help wash away residual allergens. Look for eye drops containing ketotifen that can ease allergy symptoms for up to 12 hours. Unlike many other decongestant eye drops, they won’t cause rebound redness, even with long-term use. Store your eye drops in the refrigerator to get a little extra relief.
In addition to red, itchy eyes from allergies, many also suffer from other allergy symptoms such as congestion or a runny nose. If you’re one of them, nasal steroid sprays can sometimes provide relief. Try one of the over-the-counter options such as Flonase, Rhinocort, or Nasacort. Oral antihistamines can also help if used occasionally. Cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin) won’t make you as sleepy as some of the older drugs, and they offer longer-lasting relief. But be careful not to use them too often - with repeated use, they can actually make your eyes water even more. The reason why may surprise you!
Long-term use of oral antihistamines can cause a reduction of moisture in your eyes. People who suffer from dry eyes know how painful this condition can be. Symptoms such as burning sensations, scratchy eyes, sensitivity to light, redness, blurry vision, eye fatigue, or a feeling that something is lodged in your eye can be indicators that you’re caught in the cycle of chronic dry eye. Some sufferers have difficulty wearing contact lenses or have trouble driving at night. And, believe it or not, excessive watering of the eyes is also a telltale symptom of dry eye! If your tears do not contain the right balance of water, salt, and oils, your eyes can become too dry. The resulting irritation can cause an overproduction of tears.
One of the common reasons for tear disruption is MGD, or Meibomian gland dysfunction. Eighty-six percent of patients with dry eye symptoms are diagnosed by an eye doctor with this condition. Dry eye is often the result of blockages in the tiny Meibomian glands in your eyelids. Rows of these glands rest on the edge of the eyelids, with each lid containing between 20 and 40 glands. These glands produce an oily secretion that settles in a thin layer over the surface of the eyeball, on top of the natural tears that coat the eye. This oily layer traps the tears against the eye, preventing moisture from evaporating. This enhances the performance of the tears that protect the surface of the eye. If the glands become blocked and the issue is not addressed promptly, the glands can atrophy, much as muscles do when not in use. Reduced function of the Meibomian glands can cause serious long-term problems. Once the glands stop functioning, it can be almost impossible to restore them to their original state.
Most popular treatments for dry eye focus on tear deficiency and reducing the inflammation common to dry eye. Often these treatments provide relief for only short periods of time because they address the symptoms rather than treating the underlying cause of dry eye. However, there is a groundbreaking treatment available for this condition. The Lipiflow machine is a safe, effective method way to treat dry eyes that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of Meibomian gland dysfunction. The Lipiflow machine is connected to a disposable pad. Your optometrist then places the pad on the eyelid. The machine heats the surface of the pad to a cozy temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a soothing, warm sensation that feels like a “spa day” for your eyes. The unit then massages the lid to clean and unplug the Meibomian glands. It also works very quickly – the procedure only takes 12 minutes to complete.
If you’re ready to take a break from tears, it’s time for a visit to your favorite Houston eye doctor! The optometrists at Pro-Optix Eye Care can not only provide essentials like a vision test or eyeglasses with the latest designer frames – they’re also the local experts on treatments for dry eye. Schedule your appointment by calling 713-360-7095 today!