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Are You Red-eye for Allergy Season?

Written by David Evans, PhD, MBA   Last modified on September 28, 2017

Spring allergy season has sprung, which means if you’re an allergy sufferer like me, you may have a visit to the eye doctor in your near future. Fortunately my allergies tend to be on the milder side when it comes to the eyes (for the moment at least), but for some people, allergy-related eye issues can be very uncomfortable. We recently published a slideshow focused on tips for tackling eye allergies and I wanted to go into a bit more depth in this article given the springtime prevalence.

A baseline question is how to know whether or not your eye problem is a seasonal allergy or if it’s something more. Well Dr. Mark Abelson — a clinical professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School — has a pretty simple one, two, three rule of thumb that can help… “If it itches, it’s allergy, if it burns it’s dry eye, and if it sticks in the morning, it’s bacterial.” So if you’re constantly fighting the urge to rub your eyes, but not experiencing burning or any issues with discharge in the morning, there’s a good chance that allergies are to blame.

Red eye is another clear sign of irritation. The associated redness that comes with seasonal allergies can be an easy tip off. A softer, pale form of red eye is more indicative of seasonal allergies, whereas a deeper redness signals a more serious issue like infection. However it’s important to note that just because your eyes aren’t constantly red doesn’t mean you’re not suffering from allergies. The redness tends to come and go, so don’t let that trick you into thinking it’s passed; especially if you’re still experiencing itching. Your eye doctor has an array of tests at his/her disposal that can help identify allergens regardless of whether or not your eyes are red.

If your redness and itching fits the mold of seasonal allergies, there are some steps you can take to treat the issue before necessarily scheduling a visit to the eye doctor; especially if it’s a mild allergic reaction. Two of the more common over-the-counter options for relieving red, itchy eyes are artificial tears (eye drops) and antihistamines. Drops are great for helping to wash the eyes clear of any pollen, dust or dirt that may be contributing to your allergic reactions. A trick that I like to use — one that’s well known in the eye care industry — is refrigerating the drops. You get all the benefits of artificial tears with the added bonus of creating a cooling sensation in the eye to offset any allergy-related irritation. Antihistamines can also help with itchy eyes, but unfortunately this relief is typically short-lived.

If these over-the-counter solutions do not adequately relieve your itching or redness, or if you feel your allergies worsening, you’ll likely need the aid of a stronger prescription medicine. In the past, I’ve had to turn to prescription drops on more than one occasion during a particularly bad season, and believe me, it makes a difference.

Don’t let seasonal allergies slow you down this spring. Speak with your eye doctor about how to identify your triggers and learn about what you can do to better protect yourself from irritation.