Eye allergies are anything but rare. In the US, an estimated 80 million people experience allergies according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Northern Oklahoma is in the number one region for greatest allergy diagnosis in the US. It is a condition that is treated 365 days a year. In fact, late August and September are particularly bothersome due to ragweed.
While many people enjoy the spring and fall, millions of others frequently live in dread of those times when the trees, grass, and weeds begin to pollinate. Some researchers believe that increased air pollution and cigarette smoke may be making people that are typically not bothered more sensitive to seasonal allergens. Thus, many more Americans are becoming allergy prone.
When the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to these substances, an allergic reaction can occur. When allergens come in contact with your eyes people who are sensitive experience the most common type of eye allergy called, allergic conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis refers to inflammation of the clear tissue on the surface of the eye and the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelids. The signs and symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include itching, redness, tearing, and a ropy mucous discharge. If you are a contact lens wearer your symptoms can be multiplied because contacts act like a sponge and collect allergens from the air. This increases exposure and symptoms become enhanced.
According the Institute for Asthma & Allergy, ragweed season kicks into high gear about August 15 and lasts for 90-100 days. For people with ragweed allergy, this means miserable symptoms such as sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, trouble sleeping, asthma attacks, and itchy skin, eyes, nose, or throat. Most regions in the United States experience ragweed growth between mid-August and the first frost. Each ragweed plant makes about a billion pollen grains per season and with the help of the wind, those grains can travel up to 400 miles! Our ragweed season here in Stillwater will be starting in the next couple of weeks and unfortunately, some experts believe that climate changes and weather patterns from this year may lengthen the ragweed allergy season. That’s bad news for the 10 to 20 percent of us allergic to these weeds!
To avoid allergens, some patients have to stay indoors and lose time from school or work. Yet taking shelter is not always the answer, as some allergens reside indoors and avoidance is not practical for those who perform daily activities outdoors. Treatment includes cold compresses to reduce swelling and itching, topical allergy or antihistamine drops and, in moderate to severe cases, steroid drops. Oral antihistamines are helpful but not as good as direct treatment to the eyes with allergy drops. Fortunately, there are many topical allergy drops available that work very well on a simple dose of once or twice daily. Some of the best advice is: DON”T RUB YOUR EYES! Once you experience that first little itch, use your allergy drops or a cold compress if no drops are available. Both would be even better. Rubbing your eyes breaks open special cells in your eyes called mast cells. Once this happens, histamine is released from the cell and itching becomes much more intense.
If you have questions about eye allergies, please contact us 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 Eyecare Center!