Itchy, Watery Eyes and Eye Allergies

Itchy watery eyes and eye allergies are a very common problem we see at Northwest Indiana Eye & Laser Center especially during pollen and ragweed season. The eye doctors at Northwest Indiana Eye & Laser Center provide exams, diagnosis and treatment of Eye Allergies and Allergic Conjunctivitis problems and symptoms including red, itchy watery eyes. Eye allergies and allergic conjunctivitis are extremely common-especially in northwest Indiana at certain times of the year when pollen and ragweed counts are high. In fact, as many as 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, with allergic reactions involving the eyes causing common complaint. An allergic reaction that affects the Conjunctiva, which is the clear layer of skin overlying the eyes, is commonly referred to as Allergic Conjunctivitis.

Allergic, or “hay fever”, Conjunctivitis is most commonly seen in geographic areas with a high incidence of seasonal allergies. The most common types are Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC) and Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis (PAC). SAC and PAC are triggered when a person is exposed to an allergen, most often one that is airborne. In other words, if you are allergic to a particular substance and then come into contact with it, you experience an allergic reaction, i.e. itching, sneezing.

Symptoms often develop rapidly after exposure to the allergen and include itching, tearing, burning, red eyes, mucus discharge, and eyelid swelling. The Conjunctiva is the same type of skin that lines the inside of the nose. Therefore, the same allergens can cause similar types of allergic reactions in both the eyes and the nose. The most common forms of allergens include pollen from grass, trees and weeds as well as dust, molds, and pet dander.

Although the actual symptoms of SAC and PAC are pretty similar they tend to occur at different times:

  • SAC symptoms occur in the spring and summer (grass/trees), or fall (weeds). The attacks are usually short-lived and absent during other times of the year.
  • PAC symptoms can occur year-round and are typically caused by dust and/or pet dander.
  • Allergens like pollens may also worsen your symptoms during certain times of the year. The most effective “treatment” of allergies is avoidance of the allergen(s). If you can identify and avoid the particular agent(s) that you are allergic to, your symptoms will improve significantly.

You can further improve your condition if you do some or all of the following:

  • reduce the allergen load by minimizing clutter where allergens can collect
  • limit pillows, bedding, draperies and dust ruffles
  • minimize carpeting that can harbor dust mites
  • clean regularly and thoroughly to remove dust and mold
  • use barriers and filters like pillow covers and furnace/air conditioner allergen filters
  • keep windows and doors closed during your allergy season(s)
  • avoid pet dander as well

Of course avoidance of the allergen(s) is not always easy or possible. If the symptoms do develop, you can try any of the following therapies either alone or in combination:

  • apply cold compresses, use artificial tears/lubricating eye drops to flush out allergens that get into your eyes, and use over-the-counter medications, such as allergy eye drops and oral antihistamines, as directed for mild allergies
  • beyond these self-help measures, many prescription eye drops are also available to help reduce allergies
  • identify those substances that you are most allergic to through skin testing by an allergist

For mild cases of PAC and SAC, annual follow-up visits with an eye doctor may be appropriate and a good idea. For more severe cases of PAC or SAC, or if the mild symptoms become worse or more troublesome, more frequent visits with an eye doctor may be needed.