We are heading towards Spring, which can be troublesome for a few of us who are susceptible to allergies and hayfever. Every year, your eyes start to feel itchy and scratchy. This week, we will discuss ways and strategy to prevent this from happening your eyes.
Understanding Ocular Irritation
Your eyes are constantly exposed to our environment. They respond to the changes to ensure your eyes are functioning normally. For example, the iris forms an aperture to regulate the amount of light entering your eyes. This is to ensure your vision is comfortable and not too glary on a bright day.
Your eyes need to be constantly moist or lubricated. Your tear film provides much of this needed lubrication and forming a fluid barrier between your eyes and the environment. Our tear film has a similar consistency as water but slightly sticky due to its mucous layer. Because of this stickiness, any fine dust or debris in our environment can easily get caught and trapped within the tear film, especially on a windy day.
When this fine debris get trapped within your tear film, it compromises the quality of the tear film. This also creates little inconsistencies on the front surface of the tear film. Instead of having a smooth surface, the tear film now contains little microscopic bumps, which you occasionally notice it as a scratchy feeling every time you blink.
What makes your eyes itch during Spring?
As you would know, pollen is relatively abundant during Spring. Average levels or pollen count is about 5 pollen grain per cubic metre. Patients suffering from hayfever could find themselves in trouble if the pollen count rises to 20. During the spring season, this number can potentially increase to over 80.
These pollen particles stick to your tear film (as well as your nose and throat) to trigger an immune response. This is often known as the histamine response. The histamine released by our bodies during our reaction to the pollens is responsible for the itchy feeling around our eyes and sinuses. This is why the active ingredients in hayfever tablets are anti-histamines.
If your eyes become itchy, and it is getting worse with significant tearing, you may have developed allergic conjunctivitis. This is when the conjunctiva (the white part of your eyes) get very red, along with the feeling of constant itch. It is a straightforward condition to treat, and our optometrist treats these routinely. However, leaving it untreated could risk sight-threatening complications leading to scarring, ulcers and opportunistic infections.
At Capital Eye, we are a fully equipped optometry practice to deal with these cases routinely. Your optometrist will assess your eyes and investigate what the causes are for your symptoms. This could be temporarily changing the nature of your environment, eye drops and eyewear that would limit your exposure and risks of developing a severe allergic eye reaction.
- Changing the environment. This is by far the most challenging problem to isolate. We move from one place to another throughout the day. We normally recommend our patients to change their bedding, increasing the frequency of doing their laundry, changing the air filters of the air conditioning system as a start. The pollen or irritant could be anywhere. In some cases, an air purifier is recommended on days that are high on pollen count and to stay indoors. Ultimately, allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by the environment, so controlling this would be the most effective way of managing your ocular condition.
- Using Ocular Lubricants. Using ocular lubricants dilute and attempts to “wash away” any allergens on the front surface of your eyes. Reducing the allergen concentration within your tear film would ultimately reduce your symptoms of itch. Ocular lubricants also make your eyes feel better, almost instantaneously. The lubricants we recommend is Oculocin Propo. This is because the eye drop has no nasty preservatives, and the active ingredients are all-natural (Propolis, Aloe Vera, Chamomilla) and have natural anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties. This highly specialised eye drop is available at Capital Eye, and we routinely recommend Oculocin to our chronic dry eye patients.
- Topical Steroidal Eye Drops. Suppose the allergic reaction becomes quite severe, or it develops from a simple allergic conjunctivitis to vernal keratoconjunctivitis. In that case, steroidal eye drops may be indicated to control the level of inflammation. If we let the disease run its cause, as we’ve briefly mentioned previously could develop corneal ulcers and scarring, which ultimately may affect your vision permanently.
- Anti-allergy Eye Drops. Several eye drops are marketed to relieving the signs of allergic conjunctivitis. Think of these drops are like Clarantyne for the eyes and contain anti-histamines as their primary active ingredient. There are other more effective eyedrops such as Patanol which has a mast-cell stabiliser along with anti-histamines as their active ingredients. The mast-cell stabiliser stops the mast cells from releasing histamines. Hence it is more effective for patients who routinely suffer from allergic conjunctivitis. However, the mast-cell stabiliser component of the eye drops is not instant. Patients using this type of eye drops would benefit taking them before the spring season starts.
The Bottom Line
At Capital Eye, we’ve helped numerous patients with itchy eyes, especially during the Spring season in Canberra. Most of the time, allergic conjunctivitis could be self-managed. However, if you’re not careful, it can progress to a more serious vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC) which if left unmanaged, it can potentially be sight-threatening.