You can’t avoid allergens — they’re everywhere and are present throughout the year in every activity we do, whether going out for fresh air or cleaning the basement. Allergens are common triggers for symptoms like coughing, sneezing, stuffy and runny nose and, most especially, swollen eyes. Allergies can cause the eyes to swell and become red, itchy, watery and really uncomfortable.
“The reason people have swollen eyes from allergies is they’re getting contact in the eyes from airborne allergens,” According to Princess Ogbogu, MD, the Director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology and an associate professor at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“Basically, when the allergens hit your eyes, they sort of dissolve in your tears,” says Dr. Ogbogu. “They have contact with the lining of the eye [the conjunctiva], and they react with antibodies that are bound to cells in your eyes.” These antibodies cause the body to release a histamine. A histamine causes nasal congestion as well as swollen eyes. They can come from pollen and molds, and indoor allergens such as pet dander and dust.
How bad can swollen eyes get?
Eye allergies are also known as allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis is different from regular conjunctivitis (pink eye) as it is not contagious. Also, eye allergies usually affect both eyes.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), eye allergies can cause burning or teary, watery eyes or make you sensitive to light. Eye allergies are often accompanied by a runny nose, cough or headache. Your vision may also be briefly blurry and you may feel distracted or sluggish and unproductive.
Tips to ease swollen eyes
Remember, these are your eyes we’re talking about, so check with your doctor or ophthalmologist before you try any treatment. But if you’re looking for quick relief, consider the following home remedies and medical interventions.
Wash your face
Washing your face is one of the first things you should do to combat itchy, swollen eyes, says Dr. Ogbogu. Doing this can help wash away the allergens sticking to your skin and eyelashes.
Rinse out your eyes
“Rinse out the eyes if you can with a little bit of water, and that’s usually helpful,” Dr. Ogbogu says. That will loosen the allergens from the inside of your eyes and help to flush them out.
Apply a cold compress
“Cold compresses around the eyes can be helpful with itching and swelling,” says Dr. Ogbogu. Soak a towel or washcloth in cold water or refrigerate a damp cloth or eye pillow. Next, lie down with the compress across your eyes to let the coolness reduce the swelling of your eyelids.
Try allergy eye drops
Dr. Ogbogu suggests trying an over-the-counter eye drop made to soothe itchy, swollen eyes caused by allergies. An ophthalmologist might prescribe an antihistamine eye drop. The American Academy of Ophthalmology AAO cautions that using these drops for more than three days may actually increase irritating symptoms.
Mast cell stabilizer eye drops can also be effective, as they prevent the release of histamines in your body. Unlike antihistamines, these need to be administered before exposure to an allergen in order to prevent itching, notes the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
The AAO also notes that some people may be allergic to the preservatives in certain lubricating eye drops and suggests using preservative-free formulas if that’s the case.
Take oral medications or get allergy shots
Dr. Ogbogu says that over-the-counter or prescription allergy medications, including antihistamines, can provide some relief for milder allergy symptoms, including swollen eyes. In addition to oral medications, allergy shots (immunotherapy) can help keep allergy symptoms under control.
Additionally, an OTC nasal spray called Flonase (fluticasone) is a corticosteroid formulated to relieve itchy, watery eyes along with nasal congestion.
“Weather conditions play a role” with itchy, inflamed eyes, says Dr. Ogbogu. A breezy day with lots of pollen in the air will continually re-expose you to allergens. During seasons where the outdoor allergens are high, it is best to stay inside. The best time to do outdoor activities is after a rainy day, when fewer allergens are in the air.
It may be quite difficult, but avoid rubbing your eyes, as this can worsen symptoms. Dr. Ogbogu says some do-it-yourself and home remedies aren’t always a good choice. “If you have intense redness that’s not leaving, you need to go see your doctor.”
If any of the following issues occur, you should call your doctor immediately:
- A feeling that there’s something stuck in your eye
- Pain in the eye
- Blurry vision
- Decreased vision
Make sure to always drink water at any time of the day. Water infuses your whole body with hydration. Although you may have heard that you should drink eight glasses of water a day, experts now recommend 15.5 cups for men and 11.5 cups for women. That’s a lot of water, so consider that this amount includes all fluids from drinks and foods.
If you don’t like plain water, try squeezing in a bit of lemon to add a bit of flavour. There are also fruit infuser water bottles that let you insert your favourite fruit to flavour your water. Another option to add taste is using all-natural water flavour enhancers. Stur, for example, is sugar-free, calorie-free and also contains antioxidants.
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