We’re all excited to head outdoors after a cold winter and rainy spring. However, for the millions of people who suffer from seasonal allergies, spending time outside can bring challenges. And, as you may already know, no allergy season is ever the same. A team of AccuWeather forecasters looked into forecast data, weather patterns, and climate research to determine what this year’s allergy season might look like and whether or not it will be a worse-than-usual pollen season. According to their research, the growing seasons are becoming longer across the continental U.S., which is creating longer pollen seasons and prolonging allergy symptoms.
But don’t panic just yet – the severity of this year’s allergy season may depend on where you live in the U.S. In the Southeast, tree pollen is expected to be worse than in the rest of the country because of rain and moderate temperatures. There is also one theory that climate change is causing worse allergy seasons. Dr. Mark Corbett, a board-certified allergist based in Kentucky and president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, believes that “pollen seasons are longer now, and things seem to be getting a little warmer…Also, as you put more CO2 in the air, that’s what the plants live on. So with higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, that’s increasing plant production and, potentially, increases pollen production.”
That being said, it might be time to start preparing! When it comes to allergy season, you may want to stock up on your favorite relief items and be aware of eye-related symptoms. Remember, you’re not alone if you have keratoconus and suffer from allergies. To better understand allergens that may irritate your eyes, keep reading for information on allergy causes and symptoms, why you shouldn’t rub your eyes, and ways to treat or prevent allergies.
Causes and Symptoms of Eye Allergies
Did you know that hay fever affects about 6.1 million children and 20 million adults? Also known as allergic rhinitis, it is a type of allergic reaction that occurs when the immune system overreacts to something in the environment, such as pollen. Symptoms include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, fatigue, itchy or watery eyes, or a headache.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, eye allergies are also quite common and can be known as “allergic conjunctivitis.” Allergic conjunctivitis can happen when indoor and outdoor allergens and irritants get into the eyes. The eyes are an easy target because they are exposed and sensitive. Despite the name, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. Some common eye allergy symptoms include redness, itchiness, a burning sensation, watery eyes, swollen eyelids, or feeling like there is dirt or grit in your eyes.
If You’re Living With KC, Do Not Rub Your Eyes!
Everyone has the urge to rub their eyes whether they are itchy or dry due to allergies or another cause. However, what people might not realize is that it’s not good for our eyes. If you or a loved one has keratoconus or a family history of the progressive condition, avoid rubbing your eyes, even when allergies irritate them! While the exact cause of keratoconus is unknown, it is believed that genetics, the environment, and the endocrine system all play a role, and that eye rubbing is a risk factor that can contribute to the development and worsening of keratoconus.
According to Dr. Ann Ostrovsky, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at New York University Medical Center and Director of the Keratoconus Program at NYU Langone Eye Center, “certain behaviors can also be clues of underlying medical conditions or can lead to the development or worsening of certain eye conditions if left unchecked. For example, rubbing of the eyes can be a sign of underlying allergic eye disease or inflammatory conditions of the eyelids (such as rosacea or blepharitis). Eye rubbing in certain individuals predisposed to KC, in turn, can lead to the development of keratoconus, which can cause progressive vision loss. Treating the underlying allergic or inflammatory condition can, in turn, relieve itching and prevent the eye rubbing behavior.”
How to Treat or Manage Eye Allergies
Don’t stress about allergy season as there are tips to treat, prevent, or minimize the effects of allergies. Some common ways to treat eye allergies include saline eye drops or over-the-counter medicine. There are also prescription treatments or allergy shots that may offer relief. Talk to a doctor or visit an allergist to determine what is causing your symptoms. If allergy medicine works for you, you should start taking it about two weeks before you typically start to feel symptoms. Pretreating before symptoms begin can help prevent inflammation and ease your stuffy nose, and itchy, watery eyes.
To prevent eye allergies, try to avoid common triggers, wash your hands regularly, invest in an air purifier, avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, clean your home, clothes, and bedding regularly, wear glasses and/or sunglasses outside to reduce the chance of pollen getting into your eyes, and keep windows closed during days when the pollen count is high. You can also start using a pollen tracker to determine if your allergies will be affected.
Stay Prepared Because Allergies Can Affect You Year-Round!
While many people associate allergy season with the spring or fall, some people feel like they’re affected by allergies year-round. If you’re allergic to dust, mold, or pet dander, winter allergies can be just as bad as the spring and fall months. To learn more, we put together a seasonal guide to help you understand why you may experience allergy symptoms outside of “allergy season.”
If you suffer from allergies, the best way to minimize symptoms and protect your immune system is to begin treatment before symptoms start! Understanding potential allergy triggers, as well as treatment options that may offer relief, can help you manage symptoms even in the most difficult allergy season. And whatever you do, don’t rub your eyes!