Yup! It's that time of year again: allergy season! Hooray! Don't you just love the itching, coughing, congestion, sinus pressure, tearing, headache, malaise, sniffling that happens this time of year? Isn't it just wonderful?
Well, I hope that you can tell the previous paragraph was pure sarcasm. Allergies stink! I suffer from it. My wife suffers from it. And most of you suffer from it as well. I've heard from many people this year who don't get allergies who are experiencing allergy symptoms for the first time ever!
Every allergy season feels like it's the worst ever, since the memory of the previous season is difficult to remember (or it was so bad you blocked it from your mind). But this year with warm temperatures, and an insane amount of rain, this year's allergy season is longer and more robust! So it may actually be the worst ever!
If you take oral allergy medication (OTC or Rx), it's important to start taking it before the season starts. Yes, I know that advice is a little too late for this year, but getting your body ready for the influx of allergens and pollen is important to minimize your reaction to the particles floating in the air into your nostrils.
The thing with oral allergy medications is that one of their main side effects is eye dryness. So, while you're thinking that taking your allergy medication is helping your eyes, it's probably not. The dryness can exacerbate the itching, watering and redness, making you miserable.
And wearing contact lenses? Forget it! Wear them on a minimal basis during this troubling time of the year, or switch to daily disposable lenses to minimize the build-up on allergens on the lenses from day to day.
The key thing to getting eye relief is to get some medication right on the eyes...and getting the RIGHT medication on the eyes. Over-the-counter eye drops can be absolutely fine if you know which ones to use. For my patients, when I examine them and determine they are suffering from ocular allergies, my recommendation is typically Alaway (Bausch & Lomb) or Zaditor (Novartis). These drops contain both an anti-histamine AND a mast cell stabilizer. These components are the BIG GUNS when it comes to kicking butt in the allergy department. Both of these brands are used two times a day, and I usually say to use them right when the patient wakes up and at night shortly before going to bed. The drops then can be used as needed once the allergy symptoms are under control.
I'm not a fan of the Clear Eyes by Visine. It contains only naphazoline, which is a decongestant that constricts the blood vessels to reduce the redness appearance. It's helpful, and sometimes a vasoconstrictor is beneficial, but when it comes to allergies, having an anti-histamine AND a mast cell stabilizer is typically the best option, which is why I prefer Alaway and Zaditor.
Naphcon-A and Opcon-A are other drops that may work well. These drops are used four times a day. They contain naphazoline, but they also contain an anti-histamine. In this case, the decongestant works well with anti-histamine to provide allergy relief and are a good option if Alaway and Zaditor are unavailable.
There are two drainage ducts in each eye close to the nose. The ducts are pathways that drain your natural tears and any eyedrops from your eyes through your nasal passage to the back of your throat. So taking an allergy eyedrop may not only be good for your eyes, but if you're suffering from sinus congestion, allowing the allergy eyedrops to run through this drainage system may cause direct relief of the sinus symptoms as well.
Now, if all of this over-the-counter business isn't helping out, then some prescription options are in order. After a visit to your local optometrist (hint, hint), he will be able to assess the allergy situation and cater all of the options to your specific needs. Sometimes, steroid eyedrops are recommended to suppress the inflammation, which allows the anti-histamine and mast cell stabilizers to be more effective.
Although this is common sense to most people, I must leave the disclaimer that this blog post is not a substitute for an eye exam. It's just some helpful and friendly advice to get you through the allergy season this year. However, my recommendation is to see an optometrist if you are suffering from any eye problems so that the cause of your problems can be determine and treated most effectively.