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Seasonal Allergies and the Eye

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For most people, spring brings with it short sleeve shirts, outdoor activities, no more cold weather, and fun days in the sun. However, for some it means another dreaded season plagued with allergies. As an eye doctor serving Princeton, Hamilton, and other New Jersey communities, I see a lot of patients who are affected by allergies in the area.

Seasonal allergies are brought on by an immune response in certain individuals with sensitivity to certain allergens, such as pollen. As the pollens are inhaled, allergy sufferers experience rhinitis, or inflammation of their nasal passages. Symptoms include a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, and itching.

If the pollens come in contact with the eyes or ocular surface, it can result in allergic conjunctivitis, otherwise know as allergic pink eye. Around 50% of allergy sufferers experience ocular symptoms. Symptoms generally include red eyes, itching, burning, and tearing. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe.

The best treatment for allergies is avoidance of the offending allergen, although this is often very difficult in regards to seasonal allergies. Some patients get relief from their eye symptoms with oral allergy medicines such as Claritin®. However, a large portion of patients require topical allergy and anti-inflammatory drops. These drops concentrate the anti-allergy effect right in the eyes. In mild cases of eye allergies, I generally prescribe drops such as Pazeo® and Lastacaft®, which helps inhibit the action of histamine and even prevents certain cells from releasing it.

I also recommend using artificial tears. They help to dilute and wash away any pollens or allergens from the ocular surface. Patients can even refrigerate the tears, which gives a soothing sensation when they use them. In more moderate cases of allergic conjunctivitis, especially when the pollen counts are high, I will add a steroid drop to help suppress the immune response. This generally produces very quick relief of symptoms.

I would urge anyone suffering from allergies to seek medical treatment. Too often, I find patients taking over the counter “get the red out” drops, because they believe these are the only therapies available. These medicines generally don’t treat the problem at its source and only mask the symptoms. I also find that I have to directly ask my patients if they experience eye allergies. Many don’t report their ocular allergy issues because they feel it’s just the norm to endure the bad months when pollens are high and their symptoms are severe. Untreated, seasonal allergies can leave a patient miserable; however, with proper medicines, patients can enjoy the spring and summer months as they should.

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