Surviving Allergy Season
ever step outside, take a deep breath—and begin to sneeze uncontrollably
as your eyes start to itch and swell?
You are not alone. Many
adults and children suffer from seasonal allergies. Fortunately, there is
more help than ever before for seasonal allergy victims.
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.
How do you know if your symptoms are caused by an
allergy or by another condition or disease? Both allergies and colds cause
symptoms of sneezing, congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, fatigue and
headaches. Pay close attention to the following, more subtle signs to learn
whether you have a cold or
- Cold symptoms often
appear one at a time. Allergy symptoms occur all at once.
symptoms usually last from 7 to 10 days, whereas allergy symptoms continue
only as long as a person is exposed to the allergy-causing agent.
- Allergies generally cause clear, thin, watery mucous discharge. Colds
may bring on a yellowish nasal discharge, suggesting an infectious
- Sneezing is a symptom more common to allergies,
especially when it occurs multiple times in a row.
- If you have a
fever, it’s not allergy.
- Colds are more common during the winter
months, whereas allergies are typically triggered in the spring, summer
and fall, when plants are pollinating.
- Pay special attention to
your eye symptoms. Generally, if your eyes itch, you have an allergy. If
your eyes only burn or sting, you may have dry eye. If there is a thick
discharge from your eye, you could have an infection. See your eye care
provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment if you are experiencing any
If you suffer from those unpleasant eye
symptoms, you may also experience seasonal allergic rhinitis, commonly
known as hay fever. This is your nose’s reaction to the same pollen:
sneezing, congestion, postnasal drip, runny nose and itchy throat. In
fact, pollen can travel through connecting ducts from the eyes into the
Pollen is a fine powder released by plants in order to
fertilize new seeds. The kind of pollen that causes allergic reactions
comes from non-flowering plants, such as trees, grasses and weeds.
Pollen from flowering plants does not cause allergy problems because it
is delivered by insects rather than by the wind. Generally, pollen
season in the U.S. lasts from February or March through October, and
starts later in the spring the farther north one goes. In southern
states, it can begin as early as January.
Your body’s allergic
reaction to pollen is caused by the immune system’s abnormal response to
this dust-like substance. Mistaking harmless pollen for a disease-causing
agent, your body begins to produce antibodies to fight it off, just as
it would for an attacking virus. The body then releases histamines,
chemicals that trigger inflammation and increased secretions of the
sinuses, nose and eyes.
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 try
to stay indoors as much as possible on hot, dry, windy days, and
on any day between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.
When 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 collection of pollen on their
- 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.
- Cover home
air conditioning vents with cheesecloth to filter out pollen. Clean air
filters frequently—high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) are
the best. Clean air ducts at least once a year.
- In your car,
set the air conditioner to “recirculate” to keep new pollen from
entering the vents.
If your symptoms are mild, some doctors recommend
placing cold compresses directly on your closed eyes for 10 to 20 minutes. If
that is not effective, visit your local pharmacy and buy an over-the-counter
tear substitute, which can lubricate your eyes and help wash the pollen
It is important to treat eye allergies with eye medications. They
may sometimes help relieve nasal symptoms as well as eye discomfort, by
draining from the eye into the nose. It does not work the other way around,
however; nasal sprays are generally prevented by gravity from reaching the
Eye drops and gels work more quickly and have fewer side
effects than oral medicines. In fact, oral antihistamines, while
successfully treating nasal allergy symptoms, can actually make eye
symptoms worse by drying out your eyes and leaving them with less
protection against pollen.
If over-the-counter medicine is
ineffective, or if you are not sure that your symptoms are caused by an
allergy, see your eye doctor. There are a number of very effective
anti-allergy prescription eye drops today 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. You may want to try daily disposable contact lenses to
avoid the problem of pollen and other irritating deposits building up on
your lenses. Another option is to visit an allergy specialist, who can
give you a shot that will immunize you against the uncomfortable effects
Many options exist that will allow you to enjoy the
seasonal changes in relative comfort, despite your allergies. With
proper care, today nearly everyone can survive allergy season without a
lot of distress.
Download as PDF
American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, Eye