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Spring Has Sprung: Allergies and the Eye

-The EYE Digest-

Spring Has Sprung: Allergies and the Eye


Spring time is in full swing and while many welcome the warmer weather and the longer daytime hours, there are others who dread spring and what it gives rise to…allergies from blooming flowers and the pollen they release.Allergens

Allergies occur when an environmental irritant causes cells to release histamines which cause inflammation.


What are the most common sources of allergies?

Allergies can be broken down into two categories: seasonal and perennial. Seasonal allergies are caused by pollen from flowers, trees, grasses, weeds as well as spores from mold. Seasonal allergies usually begin in spring and can last well into autumn. Perennial allergies, on the other hand, occur year round and are triggered by pet dander, dust mites, perfumes, smoke, and some cosmetics and medication.


Is it a cold and a "pink eye" or allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis?

ConjunctivitisCommon allergy symptoms include sneezing, sniffling and sinus congestion. These symptoms are classic for allergic rhinitis (allergies affecting the nasal passages). Since these symptoms present similarly to the common cold, those with allergic rhinitis often spend their time convincing others that they don’t have a cold and aren’t infectious, but instead, are suffering from allergies. In addition to affecting the nose, allergies can also affect the eyes. Those with ocular allergies have red, puffy, watery or mucous discharge, and itchy eyes that seem to get itchier the more they rub. These symptoms can affect the eyelids and the conjunctiva (the clear tissue that sits on top of the white part of the eye). When the conjunctiva is affected, it is considered an allergic conjunctivitis. Fortunately, this type of conjunctivitis is not contagious like your typical viral or bacterial “pink eye”.


How do I alleviate my symptoms?

The best way to prevent the symptoms is to avoid the trigger. If you’re allergic to cats or a certain type of perfume, then stay away from them. Sometimes it’s not so easy to avoid your trigger especially if it’s caused by pollen or spores. Fortunately, there are websites such as or that track pollen count across the United States and categorize the pollen count from low to high. Certain lifestyle modifications such as avoiding out door activities during high pollen counts can be beneficial.


ClaritinWhen your allergen can’t be avoided, there are medications, both over the counter and prescribed, that can improve symptoms. Oral over the counter medications such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra have anti-histamines that work against the histamine molecule which causes the inflammation and symptoms in the first place. If you primarily have ocular symptoms and minimal to no nasal symptoms, then a topical eye drop may be more beneficial. These topical eye drops include ketotifen


For an added "boost", try putting the eye drops in the fridge for a nice, cooling therapy. A clean, cold wash cloth can have the same affect.

(e.g. Zaditor, Alaway) and olopatadine (e.g. Pataday, Patanol). If your symptoms are mild, you may even get away with using over the counter artificial tears.


Why does my eye doctor tell me to stay away from "get the redness out" type of eye drops?

Redness relief eye drops like Visine and Opcon A are great at getting the red out, which is important if you have an important meeting or event, but with extended use they can cause rebound congestion and redness that can be worse than the initial symptoms!


These eye drops aren't helping, I need something stronger!

If antihistamine eye drops aren't enough to alleviate your symptoms, then your eye doctor can prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or a steroid.


-Dr. Janelle Santa Maria


Dr. Janelle Santa Maria is an optometrist at Los Altos Optometric Group and contributing author and editor of The EYE Digest.

To contact her with questions or make an appointment call: (650) 948-3700 or send her an email:


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