Alamo Optometry Blog

April 5, 2009

Allergies

Filed under: Educational — Tags: — admin @ 11:30 pm

(As appeared in Alamo Today, April 2009, pg. 23)

Allergies

Since the rainy season is mostly behind us, we can now all look forward to allergy season. From about mid-March until early summer, I hear several times a day of how patients suffer from systemic allergy symptoms as well as ocular ones. As a fellow allergy sufferer, I can attest that allergies can affect your daily life in many different ways. From sneezing to sinus congestion to coughing, these limit our ability to function during the day, and limit our ability to sleep at night. As for the eyes, they get very red, itchy, and teary to the point where vision and visual comfort is compromised. This leads to decreased production at school and work due to the inability to visually attend to the task at hand. Here I will mainly discuss the ocular effects of allergies, but they are related in how they are treated and managed.
In the United States, allergies affect about 20% of the population, and over half of those have ocular symptoms. Eye allergies mainly involve the conjunctiva, which is the tissue that covers the white surface of the eye and the inner folds of the eyelids. The conjunctiva is a barrier structure that is exposed to the environment and the many different allergens. It is rich in blood vessels and contains more mast cells (histamine-releasing cells) than the lungs. Histamine is the chemical that dilates blood vessels and makes them more permeable; this allows other chemicals in the blood stream to leak out which intensifies itching, redness, and swelling.
For contact lens wearers, the effect of allergies can cause blurry vision, decreased wearing time, and an increase in build-up on the lenses. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of the “surface environment” that contact lenses create. Extended wearing times, infrequent replacement of lenses, and use of potentially irritating contact lens care products can significantly exacerbate symptoms. Proper lens care is an important part of keeping contact lens wearers safe and comfortable.
When allergy symptoms kick in, patients usually visit the local drugstore to pick up a systemic antihistamine for relief. These medications can clear up systemic symptoms like runny noses, sneezing and coughing, but can make the eye condition worse. A major side-effect of antihistamines is that they have a drying effect on the eyes, thereby decreasing tear quality and quantity. Since tears are a major combatant of allergies, this can have a detrimental effect on the eyes. If your tears can’t adequately protect against and flush out the allergens on the eyes, they remain on the eye longer and make matters worse. Also, a dry eye condition can develop which will add burning and stinging to your already itchy eyes.
Firstly, allergy sufferers can help themselves by controlling their ocular environment. Limiting exposure to environmental allergies (keeping the windows closed during the worst seasons, washing your eyes after being outside) can limit the severity of symptoms. In addition, there are many prescription drops that help ease the effects of allergies. Depending on the symptoms and ocular presentation, there are different classes of medications that can help, including lubricating drops. Our ability to visualize the structures of the eye enables us to diagnose allergies and to initiate appropriate therapy. Since there are some other conditions that can mimic the symptoms of allergies, an office visit can help sort out the diagnosis instead of self-prescribing. Keep in mind it is much easier to treat allergies early on before the symptoms become unbearable.

Dr. K. at Alamo Optometry is your hometown eye doctor for outstanding service, vision care, and designer eyewear. He can be reached at 925-820-6622 or visit his office at 3201 Danville Blvd., Suite 165 in Alamo.

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