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It is estimated that over 20% of the population suffer from some form of allergy, either to food, medicine, material, or airborne particles. Allergens can affect your nose, skin, ears, sinuses, respiratory or digestion systems, and your eyes.


An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system recognizes a harmless substance as a dangerous one. As a result, the body releases histamine, a chemical that causes inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a response to a foreign substance that is used to remove it from the body and protect the cells around it. During an allergic reaction, your body essentially treats an allergen as a poison and reacts violently in order to purge itself of the substance.


Eye allergies are when an allergen causes symptoms to present themselves in the eyes. Eye allergies are most commonly associated with airborne particles: pollen, dust, mold, pollution, or pet dander or hair. Airborne allergies are less severe than their counterparts. Bee stings and food allergies have a tendency to be more acute and have serious side effects. Anaphylaxis can occur in these cases, where airways and eyelids can be swollen shut. Eye allergies can also occur by having a reaction to eye drops or makeup. 


Eye allergies can cause allergic conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye.  This causes red eyes and tearing. The excess tears can also cause a runny nose and sneezing. The conjunctivitis might be accompanied with a burning, itching, or painful feeling. Blepharitis, inflammation of the eyelids, is also common. Some people also report sensitivity to light or blurred vision. Because of this, reading, driving or using a computer or TV may be difficult.


Although allergies may be a chronic issue, there are many steps to be taken to prevent symptoms from worsening. Eye allergies are normally seasonal, as allergens such as pollen are not prevalent year round. Because of this, medication should be taken leading up to allergy season to prevent onset. Antihistamines are administered to block histamines from causing inflammation. Antihistamines can help stop itching and a runny nose. They can either be administered in oral or eye drop form. Steroid eye drops can also be given to reduce inflammation. Decongestants reduce redness of the eyes due to swollen blood vessels. Using a cold compress can help with the itching and pain, while using a warm compress could help reduce swelling.


There are also some lifestyle changes that can be made to make dealing with eye allergies easier. During allergy season it is recommended to wear eyeglasses instead of contacts. Allergens can become trapped in contact lenses and make symptoms worse. Wearing contacts when presenting symptoms of eye allergies may cause problems because the contacts may further dry out your eyes. Daily disposable contacts are also an option. Close-fitting sunglasses are recommended when going outside during allergy season. The best method, of course, is to avoid the known allergens as best you can.


Immunotherapy has also been shown to help treat airborne allergies. The patient is injected with trace amounts of the known allergens or given an oral sample. Essentially, this works as a vaccine; your body slowly builds an immunity to the allergen and “learns” not to attack it.