For many Oklahomans, ocular allergies seem inevitable. Along with sunny skies and tulips, most of us expect itchy eyes and runny noses. In fact, Northern Oklahoma has more allergy diagnoses than almost all regions of the United States, with both Payne and Pawnee counties treating seasonal allergies 365 days a year. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 80 million people nationwide experience ocular allergies and the incidence appears to be on the rise; a fact that most Oklahomans could attest to.
Those who experience ocular allergies know that itching is the primary source of discomfort. For most people, itchy eyes indicate that several other symptoms are on their way. These symptoms usually include redness, tearing, and swollen eyes. Ocular allergies are not only annoying; they can also be very disabling. Allergic symptoms typically occur when allergy sufferers come into close contact with allergens to which they are sensitive. Avoiding such situations is nearly impossible, given that these situations include mowing the lawn, dusting and vacuuming, spending time outdoors, and playing with pets.
The eyes are especially vulnerable to allergens and irritants because, like our skin, they are exposed, unprotected surfaces which make them especially sensitive. Allergens cause cells in the eye, called “mast cells,” to release histamine and other chemicals that cause blood vessels to dilate, mucous membranes to itch, and the eyes and eyelids to swell and produce tears. When the eyes start itching most people start rubbing them to relieve the itching however, rubbing only makes the situation worse. Rubbing the eyes causes the mast cells to break open and release histamine, which in turn makes the itching worse and begins a cycle that is hard to break without treatment.
Treatment includes topical antihistamine drops and cold compresses to reduce swelling and alleviate itching, and, in moderate to severe cases, steroid drops. Over the counter allergy drops are helpful but they are not as effective as prescription allergy drops. Prescription allergy drops, reserved for more aggressive or chronic cases, are typically more effective and alleviate symptoms for a longer period of time. Over the last two–three years ophthalmic drops that are categorized as “soft steroids” have become available and can be used on a regular basis without the concern of side effects like those with steroids. Oral antihistamines, such as those that are commonly taken to relieve a runny nose, are also helpful, but they are not as effective in treating ocular allergy symptoms as direct treatment to the eyes with ophthalmic drops.
If you have questions concerning eye allergies or feel you could benefit from treatment, please contact our offices in Stillwater at 405-372-1715 or Pawnee at 918-762-2573. We also invite you to visit our website at www.cockrelleyecare.com and like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eye Care Center!