Spring is in the air (🙌). Unfortunately, that means allergens are, too. From pollen to pet dander, allergies can make your eyes super uncomfortable—and wearing your contacts during allergy season can feel like a whole new layer of complication.
Here’s what you need to know to keep seasonal allergies from slowing you down this spring.
What are allergies?
Allergies are a very common health condition. About 50 million Americans suffer from some type of allergy each year.
If you have allergies, certain airborne substances (aka allergens), cause your immune system to react more strongly than they might in other people.
Allergens that most often affect the eyes are pollen, mold, dust and pet dander (tiny flakes of skin and fur that your dog or cat sheds).
Some people also have allergic reactions to ingredients in makeup or cosmetics, or to the preservatives in some types of eye drops.
Seasonal allergies are sometimes called hay fever, but the technical name is actually allergic rhinitis. These allergies tend to kick up in the spring, when plants are rich with tiny particles of pollen and mold spores that get released into the air and land in your eyes.
How do allergies affect your eyes?
Along with the sniffles and sneezes commonly associated with seasonal allergies, many people experience itchy eyes, watery eyes, redness, a burning sensation or swelling in their eyelids during allergy season.
It might seem counterintuitive since watery eyes are a symptom of eye allergies, but lots of people also experience dry eyes during allergy season. Researchers are studying this phenomenon to see how the seasons influence eye health.
Do allergies mean I can’t wear contacts?
Allergies and contacts aren’t always mutually exclusive. Some people continue to wear their lenses during allergy season without much discomfort.
But you may want to change your contacts routine or reconsider the type of lenses you wear. That’s because the surface of your contacts can act like a magnet for pollen particles. Some eye experts recommend switching to daily disposables during allergy season to lower the chances of allergens getting stuck on your contacts. Others say it’s best to avoid contacts for the duration.
If you’re using over-the-counter allergy eye drops to manage your symptoms, you’ll also need to check the label to see if they play nicely with your contacts. If the manufacturer recommends not wearing your lenses during treatment, switch to glasses until your symptoms clear up.
How can I combat dry eyes from allergies?
To find relief for dry eyes during allergy season, you could start with regular use of artificial tears to wash away allergens and keep your eyes moisturized. Look for eye drops without preservatives, since these ingredients may further irritate your eyes. If you’re not sure what brands to try, call your eye doctor for a recommendation.
You could also try adding moisture to the air in your home by using a humidifier. When you’re outside, protect your eyes from the drying effects of wind by wearing wrap-around sunglasses.
How can I help itchy eyes from allergies?
The best way to keep your eyes from itching during allergy season is to limit your exposure to allergens. Sadly, you can’t live in a sterile bubble 24/7. But you can try to stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
If your eyes itch, do your best not to rub them—this will just cause your immune system to keep producing the reaction that made them itch in the first place. Instead, try a cool compress or chilled eye drops to combat inflammation. Even if you don’t get a chance to refrigerate them, artificial tears are a great way to flush pollen from your lenses.
Experts also recommend showering before bedtime, after your contacts are out, to remove allergens that might otherwise irritate your eyes overnight.
There are also many types of medication you could consider to get relief for itchy eyes. If your allergy symptoms are mild, drugstore brands might work just fine. If you have more severe symptoms, your doctor can prescribe eye drops or pills to help. These may include antihistamines, decongestants, anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids, depending on your needs.
Should I see an eye doctor?
The symptoms of eye allergies overlap with those of lots of other eye conditions, including infections like pink eye. If your symptoms are severe, you should definitely visit your eye doctor for a diagnosis as soon as possible.
To level up your eye health, rely on Sightbox to set you up with an eye exam, contact lens fitting and year’s supply of contact lenses.