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Jennifer H. Jacobs, MD
Red's Not My Color
Dominion Eye Care

Red's Not My Color

“Red's not my color, for eyes that is” one allergy sufferer exclaimed as she sat in my office. Thanks to the effective allergy treatments now available to us as ophthalmologists, she did not have to bear that color, nor the uncomfortable feeling of itchy eyes much longer.
More than 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergies, and many of those individuals have ocular allergies which we call allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis describes the eye's reaction to coming in contact with an allergy-causing substance like pollen, pet hair, mold or dust that usually results in symptoms of redness, tearing and itching.
During the springtime, when pollen counts are high, many allergy patients are especially affected by airborne allergens. When an allergen comes in contact with the eyes, special cells called mast cells release a chemical called histamine which causes inflammation and blood vessel swelling of the conjunctiva (the clear membrane that covers the “white” of the eye). This in turn leads to many of the following symptoms
Tearing or watery eyes
Itchy eyes
Burning sensation
Puffy eyelids or eyes feeling glued shut on awakening
Stringy eye discharge
If you have allergies, the most effective treatment is to avoid the allergen. This is easier said than done especially for airborne allergens. Treatments available to the ophthalmologist to treat allergic conjunctivitis include the following
Artificial tears are effective in helping to wash the allergen from the surface of the eye.
Topical decongestants clear up the redness temporarily by constricting the tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva. Using these drops for more than a few days can worsen symptoms, therefore they are not recommended for long term use.
Topical antihistamines and topical mast cell stabilizers are drops which can be prescribed separately, but newer combination drops seem to be quite effective in most cases. These treat not just the symptoms, but also the cause, by preventing the release and the effects of histamine. They are therefore good for immediate and long-lasting relief. Although these are over-the-counter topical antihistamines, the stronger antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, and combination drops are available only with a prescription.
Topical steroid drops are sometimes needed for severe reactions or those not responding to the above measures. Patients prescribed these drops need close follow-up by their doctor.
Although the above treatments are usually very affective, there are certain things you can do to help reduce your allergy symptoms. It is important to avoid rubbing your eyes because this can worsen symptoms. If your eyes itch, use a cool compress instead. Also when using artificial tears, it is a good idea and soothing to your irritated eyes to use tears that have been cooled in the refrigerator. If your eyes itch, use a cool compress instead. Also you can begin using artificial tears when your symptoms begin. It is a good idea, and refreshing to your eyes to use tears that have been cooled in the refrigerator. If you are a contact lens wearer, wear glasses until your symptoms are controlled. Finally, if you are experiencing allergic conjunctivitis symptoms, and red is not your color, see your ophthalmologist today so you can enjoy this spring with healthy, clear, and comfortable eyes.
MD (301) 805-6805 | VA (703) 288-3130