Do you ever step outside on a beautiful day, take a deep breath—and begin to sneeze uncontrollably as your eyes start to itch and swell? You are not alone. Fortunately, there is more help than ever for people with seasonal allergies.
Allergic conjunctivitis is the most common seasonal allergy that affects the eyes. Its symptoms—itchy, watery, red and swollen eyes—are usually caused by exposure to pollen. Contact lens wearers may experience additional discomfort from the collection of pollen and allergy-related eye secretions that can bind to their lenses.
The Best Treatment: Avoidance
Doctors agree that the best way to control seasonal allergy symptoms is to avoid the pollen that triggers them. That means staying indoors when pollen counts are highest. A good rule of thumb is to minimize your time outdoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., especially on hot, dry, windy days when pollen numbers are projected to spike. Many popular weather apps provide allergy trackers that include pollen forecasts and mold count.
If you are outdoors, follow these guidelines:
- Minimize walks in wooded areas or gardens.
- Wear a mask while you mow the lawn or garden. Keep grass cut low—no more than 2 inches high—to help prevent pollen from reaching high into the wind.
- Keep hedges in your yard pruned and thin to limit pollen collection on their branches.
- Dry your clothes and linens in a dryer instead of hanging them outdoors.
When you are indoors, you can take these steps to maximize protection:
- Keep windows closed. Use air conditioning at home and in your car.
- Clean air filters at least once a year. High-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) are the best.
- In your car, set the air conditioner to “recirculate” to keep new pollen from entering the vents.
Some doctors recommend placing cold compresses directly on your closed eyes for 10 to 20 minutes if your symptoms are mild. However, if that is ineffective, you can visit your local pharmacy and buy an over-the-counter tear substitute. A tear substitute can lubricate your eyes and help wash out the pollen.
If over-the-counter medicine is ineffective, see your eye care professional. There are several very effective anti-allergy prescription eye drops that are commonly prescribed by optometrists and ophthalmologists.
If you wear contact lenses, ask your doctor about drops that can help relieve symptoms while keeping your lenses pollen-free. In addition, you may want to try daily disposable contact lenses to avoid the problem of pollen and other irritating deposits building up on your lenses.
Despite your allergies, many options allow you to enjoy seasonal changes in relative comfort. With proper care, nearly everyone can survive allergy season without much distress.