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All About Vision

Eye Allergies

Are you bothered by red, itchy eyes? You may have allergies.

Along with and in addition to the usual allergy symptoms, such as congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches and difficulty breathing, people with allergies often suffer from eye allergies or allergic conjunctivitis resulting in red, watery, itchy and sometimes swollen eyes.

If you experienced these eye allergy symptoms once in the distant past or if you suffer seasonally from eye allergies and the symptoms associated with them, the above symptoms are a sufficient reminder of what you would prefer to avoid.

Just as irritants cause an allergic response in your nasal and respiratory system, your eyes react with an oversensitive immune response, triggered by an environmental substance that most people’s immune systems ignore.

Most individuals with allergies also suffer from eye allergies which affect millions of North Americans, particularly with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) which is common during the spring, summer and fall. Indeed, many eye allergies sufferers come to dread the change of seasons and the allergy symptoms associated with the change in weather.

What Causes An Eye Allergy?

Salmon Arm and Chase eye doctors explain:

Eye allergies, or any allergies for that matter, occur when the immune system is hyper-sensitized to a stimulus in the environment that comes into contact with the eye.

The allergen stimulates the antibodies in the cells of your eyes to respond by releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause the eyes and surrounding tissue to become inflamed, red, watery, burning and itchy.

Eye allergens can include: (click to show)
  • Airborne substances found in nature such as pollen from flowers, grass or trees.
  • Indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust or mold.
  • Irritants such as cosmetics, chemicals, cigarette smoke, or perfume.
woman with eye allergy in Chase, near Salmon Arm, British Columbia
woman with eye allergy in Salmon Arm near Chase, British Columbia

Tips for Coping With Eye Allergies

Allergies can go from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Knowing how to alleviate symptoms and reduce exposure can greatly improve your comfort and quality of life, particularly during allergy season which can last from April until October.

To reduce exposure to allergens: (click to show)
  1. Stay indoors and keep windows closed when pollen counts are high, especially in the mid-morning and early evening.
  2. Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes, not only from UV rays, but also from airborne allergens.
  3. Avoid rubbing your eyes, this can intensify symptoms and increase irritation. When the eyes get itchy, it is difficult not to rub and scratch them.  However, rubbing the eyes can aggravate the allergic cascade response, making them more swollen, red, and uncomfortable.
  4. Check and regularly clean your air conditioning filters.
  5. Keep pets outdoors if you have pet allergies and wash your hands after petting an animal.
  6. Use dust-mite-proof covers on bedding and pillows and wash linens frequently.
  7. Clean surfaces with a damp cloth rather than dusting or dry sweeping.
  8. Remove any mold in your home.
  9. Reducing contact lens wear during allergy season or switch to daily disposable contact lenses.

Treatment for Eye Allergies

Treatment for the uncomfortable symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include over-the-counter and prescription drops and medications.

It is best to know the source of the allergy reaction to avoid symptoms. Often people wait until the allergy response is more severe to take allergy medication, but most allergy medications work best when taken just prior to being exposed to the allergen. Consult your eye doctor about your symptoms and which treatment is best for you.

Finding the right treatment for your allergies can make all the difference in your quality of life, particularly during the time of year when most of us like to enjoy the outdoors.

(Click each item below to show)

Non-prescription medications include:
  • Artificial tears (to reduce dryness)
  • Decongestant eyedrops
  • Oral antihistamines
Prescription medications

Prescription medications include eyedrops such as antihistamines, mast-cell stabilizers, or stronger decongestants as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy which are allergy injections given by an allergist are sometimes also helpful to assist your body in building up immunity to the allergens that elicit the allergic response.

Cool compresses & artificial tears

If no allergy medicine is on hand, even cool compresses and artificial tears can help alleviate symptoms.

Computer Eyestrain

Digital eye strain is an increasingly common condition as digital devices become more ingrained into our daily lives and the lives of our children.

Digital eye strain, eye fatigue and computer vision syndrome (CVS) are conditions that result from extended exposure to digital screens such as computers, smartphones, tablets and televisions from a combination of factors including the blue light radiation emitted from the devices and the pixelated content that is difficult for our eyes to focus on.

Symptoms of computer or digital eyestrain tend to be noticed after someone has used a digital device for as little as 2 hours a day. Studies show that 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day in front of a digital device and 70% of adults report some symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS).

man rubbing eye at work
Symptoms of CVS (click to show)
  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Dry or watery eyes
  • Red or irritated eyes
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Sensitivity to light or
  • Neck, shoulder or back pain (caused by compromised posture to adjust to vision difficulty).

Digital eye strain also impacts your ability to focus and lessens productivity.  Most people do nothing to ease their discomfort from these symptoms because they are not aware of the cause.

student wearing computer glasses in BC
Protecting Your Eyes from Digital Eye Strain and Blue Light

There are a number of options available at Shuswap Optometric Centre for reducing digital eye strain and your exposure to blue light. These include workspace ergonomics, computer glasses, specialized lenses and protective coatings for your glasses.

The first step is to get a comprehensive eye exam, making sure you speak to your eye doctor about how often you use a computer and digital device. This will help your doctor to get the full picture of your eye and vision needs in order to determine which option is best for you. It also helped the doctor to identify any underlying issues that could be worsening your symptoms.

Alleviating Digital EyeStrain (click to show)

Workspace Alterations

Proper Lighting and Screen Brightness: You want the screen to be as bright as the surrounding environment or the brightest object in the room (depending on what is most comfortable for you). Therefore interior lighting or sunlight from the outdoors should be dimmed or blocked.  Use fewer light fixtures or lower voltage light bulbs and close curtains or blinds when possible. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your monitor to the levels that are most comfortable.

Reduce Glare: Glare is a significant cause of computer eyestrain so it is important to minimize it as much as possible.  Set up your computer where glare from windows won’t affect your screen or cover windows when this is not possible. Glare can also reflect from walls and shiny finishes on desks and other surfaces.  An anti-glare screen on your monitor or an anti-reflective (AR) or anti-glare coating applied to your eyewear can also help to minimize glare and the strain it causes to your vision.

Screen size and distance: You want to make sure you are using a high quality (such as a flat LCD) screen that has a relatively large display (look for a diagonal screen size of at least 19 inches) and is located directly in front of your line of vision. Your viewing distance should be about an arm’s length away with the top of the monitor at about eye level or slightly below.

Eye Care (click to show)

Keep Eyes Moist: When viewing a digital screen or monitor for an extended period of time, we tend to blink less frequently (about ⅓ as often as we should). Blinking however is critical for keeping the eyes moist, which allows them to remain clear and comfortable and to avoid dry eyes, irritation, blurry vision or eye fatigue.

Focus on blinking by setting a timer for every 20 minutes and slowly closing and opening your eyes 10 times. Keep a bottle of artificial tears handy to use when your eyes are feeling dry.

Give Your Eyes a Break: Schedule and take frequent breaks from your screen. Follow the 20-20-20 rule; every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Take this time to stand up and stretch your back, neck, and legs as well.

Computer Eyewear (click to show)

Computer glasses reduce eye strain by adjusting the focus slightly so your eyes feel like they are focusing on something further away. They also have a tint to remove the glare and block blue light from entering into your eyes. There are a number of options for computer eyewear, both if you need prescription eyewear and not. Speak to your eye doctor about what the best options are for you. Learn more about computer glasses here.

It is important to know that both adults and children alike are susceptible to computer eye strain from computers and digital devices.  With the growing use of such devices in our everyday lives it is important to start educating ourselves and our children on how to combat the negative effects of these habits.

COVID-19 UPDATE

Please be advised that all office visits including exams, frame selections, repairs, pick-ups, and drop-offs are by appointment only. We are required to wear a face mask in our office and ask that you bring yours to your appointment.

We are happy to serve our patients and community and are committed to keeping you as safe as possible.

Thank you.

The Shuswap Optometric Team