Allergies are your body’s natural response to certain medications or substances (allergens) such as pollen or dust mites that it doesn’t recognise^1^. This response may lead to itchy skin, a runny nose, or red, itchy eyes, among other symptoms^1^. Your allergy might occur during particular seasons of the year, or year round, depending on the cause.
When your body comes into contact with an allergen, this triggers the release of histamine from mast cells, resulting in an allergic response^1^. Mast cells are found in the tissues that are in contact with the external environment, such as the eyes, nose, mouth, throat and skin^1^. So when pollen, for example, lands on the eye, mast cells identify it as an intruder, producing histamine, which then leads to allergy symptoms^1^.
Common allergens affecting the eyes include, but are not limited to, pollen, ragweed, grass, moulds, weeds, dust and pet dander^2^.
The most common symptoms of allergies include^2^:
• Eye redness
• Excess tearing
• Itchy eyes
• Sinus activity
• Sticky white discharge (the white colour differentiates it from infection)
In most cases, your GP, pharmacist or eye care professional will recognise your symptoms as allergies. Available treatments come in a range of tablets, eye drops and sprays and include:
• Antihistamines^3^ (e.g. cetirizine): block the effect of histamine
• Mast cell stabilisers^4^ (e.g. sodium cromoglicate): stabilise the mast cells to prevent them from releasing histamine
• Corticosteroids^3^ (e.g. fluticasone): anti-inflammatories sometimes used to treat allergies.
Other products are available to ease symptoms, such as eye wipes to soothe the eyes and clear away any discharge, or a cold eye mask to soothe and reduce eyelid inflammation. If allergy sufferers are contact lens wearers, they may benefit from daily replacement of contact lenses with fresh, new lenses every day.
The best way to minimise symptoms is by avoiding allergens. For example, if you commonly experience allergic reactions during the springtime, you probably are reacting to pollen, and should try to wear wraparound sunglasses when out and about. Similarly, if you get allergy symptoms every time you’re in a house with a pet, you’d be wise to avoid animals as much as possible. Consult your doctor, pharmacist or eye care professional for advice.
1. Allergy UK. (2012) What is an allergy? Available at: [http://www.allergyuk.org/what-is-an-allergy/what-is-an-allergy]
2. Allergy UK. (2013) What is causing your allergy? Available at: [http://www.allergyuk.org/what-is-causing-your-allergy/what-is-causing-your-allergy]
3. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (2014) Allergy Medication. Available at [http://acaai.org/allergies/treatment/medication]
4. WebMD. Mast Cell Inhibitors for Allergy Symptoms. (2016) Available at: [http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/mast-cell-inhibitors]
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