Managing Your Eye Allergies
By LeRoy Popowski, O.D., Elite Vision, Colorado Springs LIVING WELL Magazine
It is estimated that 120 million Americans suffer from eye (ocular) allergies and further that 95% of these people are affected by seasonal or perennial allergic conjunctivitis. The prevalence of ocular allergies has been shown to be increasing due to decreased air quality and environmental allergenic agents including pollens, grasses, dust, and pet dander. Ocular allergies can significantly diminish quality of life, potentially decrease visual acuity, and may reduce one’s ability to comfortably wear contact lenses. Further exacerbating the effect of ocular allergies is that this condition is often found in conjunction with dry eye disease or other ocular surface disease. The symptoms of these various conditions must be carefully elucidated to ensure that the optimal treatment regimen is prescribed.
Key symptoms that indicate ocular allergies include: redness of the eyes, itchy eyes, watery eyes, and swollen eyelids. These symptoms may increase and decrease in intensity depending on exposure to the offending agents, leading many people to believe that these symptoms are not significant enough to seek treatment. Unfortunately, many people have resigned that they have no option but to endure their eye allergies. A high percentage of those suffering from ocular allergies attempt to achieve resolution by using various over-the-counter medications that promise to “get the red out” and “relieve itching.” These only provide temporary relief and mask symptoms. Some discontinue contact lens wear due to the discomfort associated with wearing contact lenses when ocular allergy symptoms are present. Others opt to take oral anti-allergy medications to achieve relief, but then suffer from increased dryness of the eyes without allergy relief. Fortunately, there are much more effective treatments for ocular allergies that can result in almost immediate relief and permit you to maintain your active lifestyle without unnecessary interruption.
Active individuals often prefer to wear contact lenses for vision correction, specifically when they are engaged in physical activities such as golf, cycling, hiking, and team sports. Contact lenses provide crisp vision and offer significant advantages over spectacle lenses including enhanced peripheral vision and depth perception compared to spectacle lenses. Allergy patients wearing longer replacement contact lenses (two-week or monthly replacement) often find contact lens wear to be very uncomfortable and may even drop out of contact lens wear due to symptoms associated with ocular allergies. These lenses build up allergens over the course of their wear and the allergen loads continue to increase with each day of wear despite daily cleaning. Even rigorous mechanical rubbing fails to effectively remove these allergens responsible for ocular allergies. Daily disposable contact lenses are an excellent option as they are replaced daily, preventing exposure to an increasing allergen load. Further, they can also serve as a protective barrier to allergens coming into contact with the eyes and ultimately be a component of the treatment of ocular allergy rather than a contributing factor.
Topical prescription allergy medications have advanced significantly in recent years and a few now even provide all day relief with the administration of only one drop in the morning. These new medications include topical antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer combinations that have the capacity to provide relief within minutes. These agents inhibit vasodilation and vascular permeability that are responsible for increased redness of the eyes and surrounding tissues, block local histamine receptors and prevent mast cell degranulation that lead to itchy eyes. Severe cases may also be effectively treated with short-term use of topical steroids to suppress the inflammatory allergic response. Effectively treating ocular allergies requires that your symptoms be understood, physiological clinical signs be diagnosed, and a treatment regimen be initiated to address the underlying etiology.
Dr. Popowski practices at ELITE VISION located at 3470 Centennial Blvd. in the Centennial Professional Building. He can be reached at 719-471-1107.