Allergies, Eyes and Contact Lenses

Allergies, Eyes and Contact Lenses

Eye allergies are often caused because of allergic responses to other allergens and commonly run in the family. If you are aware of family members that suffer from allergies then it is likely you could inherit them.

An allergic reaction is normally caused by your eyes overreacting to a harmful substance even when it cannot affect other areas of the body. Dust is a prime allergen and it can result in your eyes producing tears if they are overly sensitive.

Other problems can be caused by allergens, such as asthma and conjunctivitis. When nasal and eye allergies are combined, a condition happens called rhinoconjunctivitis. Over 25% of people in the UK are known to suffer from at least one allergy. Of this 20% are expected to suffer from allergies that irritate the eyes.

The signs and symptoms of allergies

There are many signs of allergies, such as:

  • Swollen eyelids and itchy eyes that become very red
  • Burning or stinging eyes
  • Excessive sneezing and coughing
  • Irritable mouth, throat or itchy nose
  • A headache that is directly caused by a sinus congestion
  • Fatigue which can result in a lack of sleep

What causes eye allergies?

Airborne allergens are prime causes of eye allergies. Examples of airborne allergens include mould, pet odours and pollen. Many types of food can cause allergies such as food and bee stings but not eye allergies.

The body can react badly to drugs or eye drops and cosmetics which ultimately causes eye allergies. Many people are allergic to the preservatives that are in eye drops. When an eye allergy is caused by eye drops, choose a product that contains no preservatives.

How to treat eye allergies

Woman sneezing

Avoid allergens
By avoiding direct contact with what is causing an eye allergy, the problems will subside. If you have itchy eyes that are caused by your pets, remove dust or pet hair from your furniture. When there is high pollen count, stay inside and turn your air conditioning on. Every window in your home can be shut to prevent allergens from causing any irritation. Furnace filters can also be fitted in order to stop common allergens from getting inside your home. Whilst outside, wear wraparound sunglasses to prevent pollen and other allergens from causing discomfort.

If you've taken every preventative step to avoid an allergen, consider medication to alleviate the symptoms. Medications that are available from supermarkets are usually cheaper than prescription medications. However, prescription medications are normally stronger and more effective at treating eye allergies.

Eye drops can help if you have allergies, in particular if they contain decongestants and anti-histamines that stop inflammation. Such symptoms as sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes can be alleviated by eye drops that contain antihistamines. When your nasal passages are swollen, decongestants can help.

Eye drops are available as simple eye washes, or they may have one or more active ingredients such as mast cell stabilizers, antihistamines or decongestants. Antihistamines help with many symptoms attributed to airborne allergens such as watery eyes and sneezing. Decongestants help because it shrinks swollen nasal passages.

How to relieve itchy, watery eyes

Watery eyes are usually caused by two problems that are very different from each other - dry eye syndrome and allergies.

When histamine causes your eyes to water, allergies are to blame. Dry eye syndrome is responsible for watery eyes when your tear glands produce more tears as a protective response. If your eyes are very red, decongestants can help. Containing vasoconstrictors, decongestants shrink the blood vessels in your eyes. Although symptoms are treated, the cause of eye allergies is not resolved. When decongestants are used extensively, the blood vessels can rely on the vasoconstrictors to remain small. As a result, your blood vessels can get bigger when decongestants are not used. Otherwise known as rebound hyperaemia, your eyes can worsen after several days or weeks.

An alternative to decongestants that have vasoconstrictors are products which contain mast cell stabilizers. Alleviating redness and swelling, mast cell stabilizers can offer long-lasting relief. This is the complete opposite of antihistamines because they only usually temporarily treat the problems. Although decongestants and mast cell stabilizers can be bought in pill form, eye drops and gels are an alternative because relief is brought instantly.

Woman applying eye drops

To decrease swelling, inflammation and the other symptoms that are caused by allergic conjunctivitis, which is otherwise known as hay fever, NSAID (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) eye drops can be prescribed.

Other medication that can provide fast relief is prescription corticosteroid eye drops but steroids can cause many side effects such as inner eye pressure. When intraocular pressure happens, glaucoma can happen. The optic nerve can also be damaged. Other side-effects of steroids are cataracts when the eye's natural lens becomes cloudy. By reading the product label for any side effects, they are known in advance. You can also ask your doctor about probable side-effects of prescription medication.

If you continue to have allergens, immunotherapy might be the best solution. By injecting the allergen into your arm, you will eventually develop immunity and no medication will be required to treat it.

Contact lenses and eye allergies

Contact lenses can be very uncomfortable because of airborne allergens. When allergens come into contact with your lenses, natural substances are produced excessively in your tears. As a result, your contact lenses can become very blurry. By referring to pollen maps, you'll know if allergens are present. You can also ask an optician about eye drops which will alleviate the symptoms so that your contact lenses are cleaner for longer. If you suspect that you are suffering from conjunctivitis, and still wish to wear contact lenses, we advise that you take a look at our article on pink eye and contacts.

Daily disposable contact lenses are an alternative if you have allergens. Disposed of at the end of the day, irritating deposits are prevented from building up and causing discomfort.