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Don’t Let Fall Eye Allergies Get You Down

Red, itchy, watery eyes and swollen eyelids (along with sneezing, congestion or a runny nose)... these symptoms are a clear indication that allergy season has arrived. These allergic symptoms are caused by a reaction to allergens, which are substances in the environment that are usually harmless. If, however, you are one of the unlucky that is predisposed to allergies, these substances can illicit a serious and sometimes even debilitating allergic response.

As opposed to food, medicine, or insect allergies which don’t often affect the eyes, eye allergies are a common symptom of airborne allergens including mold, pollen (from trees and flowers), dust and pet dander. The summer fall and spring are often the worst times for a high pollen count and many individuals suffer during these seasons.

An allergic eye reaction occurs when your eye releases histamines in an effort to protect itself from a perceived threat (an allergen such as dust, pollen, animal dander, mold spores, eye drops or airborne chemicals). The release of the histamines causes the symptoms of redness, itchiness, burning and tearing. This response is also sometimes known as allergic conjunctivitis.

The most common type of eye allergies are perennial and seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. Perennial eye allergies are a response to household allergens that exist all year round such as pet dander, mold, or dust mites. Seasonal allergies usually result from pollen from plants, grass and trees that are found in the air and depend on the season and the types of pollens in the environment.  Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is often more severe than perennial and can cause puffy eyelids and itching which can make symptoms worse.

The best way to reduce discomfort and prevent an allergic reaction is to stay away from allergens as much as possible. Here are some tips on how to reduce exposure:

  • Minimize outdoor exposure during pollen season:
  • Stay inside when pollen counts are particularly high or during a windy day.
  • Keep windows closed and use air conditioner with a clean filter.
  • Wear sunglasses outside to keep irritants from entering the eyes.
  • Reduce indoor allergens:
  • Wash bedding frequently in hot water and use mite-proof covers on pillows, blankets and mattresses.
  • Prevent household mold by reducing humidity and keeping areas that are subject to humidity or dampness (such as bathrooms, kitchens or basements) clean. Use a dehumidifier when necessary and clean any mold you see with bleach.
  • To reduce dust, clean floors and surfaces with a damp rag or mop rather than sweeping or dry dusting.
  • Wash your hands and clothes after coming into contact with animals.
  • DO NOT rub your eyes as this can worsen symptoms, greatly aggravating swelling and itchiness, and can sometimes even cause an infection.

If you have severe allergies, avoid contact lens wear or reduce wear time when allergies flare up, as contact lenses can worsen symptoms and do not fit as they normally would when the eyes are swollen. This is why having back up glasses is so important. Changing to one day single use disposable contacts can also sometimes reduce allergy symptoms.

There are some steps you can take to alleviate symptoms of eye allergies. Over-the-counter solutions include artificial tears, decongestant eye drops (which shouldn’t be used for longer than a week) or oral antihistamines (which can sometimes worsen symptoms). If no eye drops are available, cool compresses (avoid heat) will also help to reduce the itch.  If these treatments don’t work, you can get a prescription for stronger eye drops (antihistamine or short term steroid drops to reduce symptoms), oral antihistamines or possibly immunotherapy (such as allergy shots).

If you are experiencing symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, don’t just assume they are allergies. See your eye doctor to determine the cause to ensure that it is not a more serious eye condition.

PROTECTING OUR COMMUNITY

We have been working very hard to prepare to re-open for normal "routine" preventive eye care, taking every precaution to ensure the safety of everyone involved. We are pleased to announce as of Monday May 18th we'll be seeing patients for all types of eye care, including routine annual eye exams.

But, things will be very different than they were prior to the pandemic.

1. Our front door will be locked at all times. We will be allowing only 1 person at a time in the office and by appointment only, so please enter alone, or with no more than l other person accompanying you. Others may wait in the car.

2. Masks will be required for both patients and us while in our office.

3. Upon entering, we will be checking your temperature and screen you for COVID symptoms or possible exposure. If your temperature is 100 F or higher, or you have symptoms or may have recently been exposed to COVID, we will reschedule you.

4. We will need you to respect the 6 feet personal distancing while outside the exam room

5. We will have you wash your hands for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer when you enter. We will be using hand washing and hand sanitizer constantly and will be disinfecting everything you and we touch. Please don't touch anything that isn't absolutely necessary.

6. For frame selection or picking out glasses, please let us help you, and don't just browse and try on frames by yourself. We have to disinfect the frames every time they are touched or worn, and we need to know which frames need to be disinfected.

We are doing all these things to protect you and all of our other patients as best we can. We will need and depend on your cooperation on this during this very difficult time. Doing so will protect your fellow patients-many of whom are at extremely high risk if they contract COVID - and to protect us. All healthcare providers are putting themselves in harm's way every day during this pandemic - the more we all cooperate and take appropriate precautions, the better off we all will be.

We are all in this together. Thank you for your patience, understanding, and cooperation.

Please stay safe.

Dr. Jim Hutchins and staff