Seasons changing are often something to look forward to. Especially when the chill of winter is conquered by the warmth of spring, and the swelter of summer is subdued by the cool crisp of autumn. One of the downsides of changing seasons, however, is the allergens that come along with them. So, let’s talk the causes, effects, and solutions of seasonal allergies and how they can upset your eyes. The focus of this talk? Fall.
Let’s kick this conversation off with a quick background of your eyes and why they can get the brunt of allergy effects. An article from WebMD gives a good explanation, stating that the layer of skin covering the front of your eyes is “…the same type of skin that lines the inside of your nose. Because these two areas are so similar, the same things can trigger allergic reactions in both places.” Typical eye allergies that affect your eyelids, the layers of skin that cover the front and the inside of eyes, are referred to as allergic conjunctivitis by your Doctor of Optometry (OD).
One of the most common allergy triggers that can bother both your nose and your eyes is ragweed pollen. Ragweed grows across the US and its pollen releases during the fall months, with its highest pollen counts in mid-September. While ragweed does not grow in every single state, it can travel in the wind for hundreds of miles!
Two other common triggers in autumn are mold and dust mites. The leaves that pile up outside your home as they fall gracefully from the trees provide a nice, damp breeding environment for mold. Dust mites are invited to frolic around in homes, schools, and other commonplace indoor locations once heat gets turned on in the fall.
You’d probably never guess how much two things that are vastly loved can play a big hand in eye allergies - body fragrances and bonfires. Have you ever noticed that being around a friend or coworker in the spring and summer is perfectly fine but come fall, you’re constantly sneezing and rubbing your eyes around them? This could be because the perfume or cologne they brand themselves with during the cooler months contains an allergen that irritates your eyes. While bonfires are a fun way to gather under the stars around the warmth of an outdoor fire, wildfire smoke can irritate your sinuses and trigger your eye allergies as well.
The American Optometric Association shares that, “ocular allergies are the abnormal response of sensitive eyes to contact with allergens and other irritating substances,” and notes that eye allergies are, “one of the most common ocular surface diseases in primary eye care.”
When allergens come into contact with eyes’ mast cells, an important part of all immune systems, release histamines and other chemicals that can cause your eyes to become inflamed, red, swollen, itchy and watery in an attempt to fight off the allergen. These responses can also cause your eyes to become sensitive to light.
While we should thank the attempt, the response can be extremely frustrating! So, let’s move on to solutions.
Some solutions are very simple but can still be quite hard to do: for example, taking a hands-off approach. It’s difficult not to touch your eyes throughout the day, especially when they’re itchy, but rubbing your eyes can only make things worse.
A few other short term simple solutions include avoiding eye makeup, applying a cold compress to your eyes, and wearing sunglasses while outdoors to act as a shield against allergens.
You might also want to consider purchasing a dehumidifier and an air filter, switching your bedding from cotton to naturally hypoallergenic silk which also serves as an inhospitable environment for dust mites, and swapping your contacts with glasses when your eyes are suffering.
While over the counter eyedrops can also be very helpful and soothing, consider scheduling an appointment with an optometrist at Bethesda Vision Care for a comprehensive eye exam to confirm there are no other causes for the symptoms you are experiencing and to construct a customized plan for you during the allergy seasons!