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Vision Tip: Managing Eye Allergies

 It's summer, which means warmth, sunshine and outdoor activities. Along with the warmer weather comes an abundance of pollen, mold spores and dust-creating sneezing, congestion and itchy, watery eyes.


     At least 50 million Americans suffer from a seasonal allergy, making it the sixth leading cause of chronic disease. Not only do seasonal allergies interfere with outside enjoyment, but they can affect a person's ability to concentrate and most importantly, sleep.


     The most common symptoms that seasonal allergy patients endure are redness, blurred vision, tearing, itching and, sometimes, a watery-like discharge. These symptoms occur when an allergen, such as pollen, initiates a chain of events called a "hypersensitivity reaction." This causes a release of chemicals like histamine, which leads to itching, redness and inflammation.


     Contact lens wearers are in a difficult situation. Airborne allergens can irritate contact lens patients by two different methods. They can bind to the actual lenses, causing discomfort, or they can cause an excess in production of the eyes' natural substances, which, in turn, adhere to the contact lenses, making them uncomfortable. Patients who sleep in lenses or do not follow an accurate lens replacement schedule are more susceptible to severe allergy symptoms.


      The conjunctiva is a thin, transparent tissue layer that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inner eyelid. The American Optometric Association describes seasonal allergic conjunctivitis as any inflammation of the conjunctiva associated with allergens that get in the eye during spring, summer or fall. The best thing that allergy sufferers can do is seek advice from a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. They will be able to eliminate other possible causes before treatment can be initiated.


      Almost 50 percent of patients with allergies use a daily antihistamine/mast cell stabilizer medication to help alleviate symptoms; unfortunately these do not help with ocular problems. They are excellent for the sniffles, but they can make ocular symptoms worse by reducing the amount and quality of tears. Optometric physicians have several effective medications to help soothe dry eye and allergy symptoms. There are over-the-counter and prescription eye drops available.


       In addition to eye drops, there are many things that you can do to alleviate allergies. Cool packs, artificial tears and keeping windows closed to lessen allergen exposure time will help. Washing hands with soap and bed linens with hot water and detergent help, too.


     Contact lens wearers should consider decreasing wear time and changing their lens case more often. Sometimes a new cleaning method can make a difference. Daily disposable contact lenses are a wonderful option because allergens and deposits do not get the chance to build up.


                                   "Keeping eye allergies at Bay" By Marissa Knutson. Daily Astorian

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Dr. Larry A. Jebrock