How to Protect Your Eyes during Allergy Season

Published 06/13/2024
by Heritage Vision Plans

Seasonal allergies can cause itchiness, redness, and swelling around the eyes. Here’s how to relieve symptoms.

The burst of growth that happens every spring and summer brings with it an explosion of pollen and other airborne allergens that trigger symptoms in millions of Americans each year. Allergies are an overreaction of your immune system. When your eyes come into contact with an allergen, special cells in your eye called mast cells release histamines and other chemicals as part of your body’s immune response. These cause your eyes to swell, itch, and produce tears—all defense mechanisms to protect your eye under normal circumstances, but which become unbearable when they are the reaction of an over-sensitive system.

While it may seem self-evident that you have seasonal allergies if your eyes swell up and get puffy every spring, it’s important to get an examination from your eye doctor. Allergies share symptoms with other eye diseases, and a correct diagnosis can help you get the treatment you need. A doctor can check you for allergies by looking at your eyes under a microscope to see if there are swollen blood vessels on the surface of your eye, and by taking a sample from your conjunctiva (the inner lining of your eyelid) to see if certain types of white blood cells are present.

If you do have allergies, further testing can help you determine your environmental triggers. Common eye allergens include pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mold, perfume, and smoke.

What steps can I take to protect my eyes from seasonal allergens?

Seasonal allergies are on the rise, as warming temperatures extend the growing season of many allergen-producing plants. You may be noticing that allergy symptoms are starting earlier in the year and lasting longer. Many people who were not previously affected are now reporting symptoms, and long-time allergy sufferers are experiencing a worsening of their symptoms. Whether allergies are new to you, or you’re looking for new ways to treat old symptoms, here are steps you can take to find relief.

  • Avoid touching your eyes. Yes, we know it’s easier said than done! However, our hands are likely to have picked up allergens, and rubbing your eyes to relieve itchiness may only make the problem worse.
  • Use preservative-free eyedrops. Preservatives in eye drops can increase irritation and can only be used a limited number of times in a day. Preservative-free drops are gentler on your eyes, and can also be used as often as you need.
  • Wear sunglasses or glasses when outside. Glasses create a physical barrier that can keep airborne particles out of your eyes. Wipe them down when you come inside.
  • Track pollen counts and air quality. Today, many smartphones will share local data in their weather apps about pollen count and air quality. Avoid going outside when the pollen is bad. Pollen counts vary from day to day, but tend to be highest in the early morning and evening.
  • Keep your windows closed and use the AC. Avoid using a window fan, which will suck allergens in from the outside and spread them around your home.
  • Wash frequently. Wash your hands and face when you come inside and wash your hair more frequently. This not only cleans the allergens from your face, but it prevents you from spreading them around your home. Change your bed linens more frequently as well.
  • Use a cold compress to reduce inflammation and itchiness. After washing your face, apply a cold compress to your eyes to calm swelling and irritation.
  • Switch to daily contacts. Allergens can build up underneath contact lenses. Switching to daily lenses during allergy season can help manage symptoms.
  • Choose your air purifiers with care. Choose an air purifier that uses a HEPA filter and that promises a Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) sufficient for your room. Avoid ionic electrostatic purifiers, fiberglass filters, or UV light purifiers, as these are ineffective at best and could even make your symptoms worse.
  • Take antihistamines. Some eye drops come with antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers. These may only be used up to twice a day, but they can help to prevent symptoms of eye allergies. Many antihistamines are not recommended for long-term use and should not be taken for more than a few days at a time. Be sure to check the instructions before taking.
  • Consider allergy shots. Immunotherapy treatments are shots that regularly introduce your body to small doses of an allergen to help it grow immune over time.

Talk to your eye doctor about your eye allergies during your next regular checkup.

If you think you are suffering from eye allergies, bring the issue up the next chance you get. Your eye doctor can confirm that your symptoms are not caused by another disease and can recommend a treatment based on the type and severity of your symptoms.

As a Heritage Vision Plans member, annual eye exams are part of your benefits. Even if you don’t currently wear glasses or contacts, a regular visit to your eye doctor can ensure your eyes are healthy while providing an opportunity to ask your doctor questions about your eye health.

Browse our provider network to find a doctor near you.