April 20-26, 2020 is World Allergy Week. This global initiative seeks to bring attention to how common allergies can affect a person's general health. This is especially true when it comes to eyesight. Allergies can lead to a number of eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the tissues that cover the eyeball.
Spring is an apt time for World Allergy Week, as trees, flowers and other flora are budding and releasing pollen at this time throughout the northern hemisphere.
About World Allergy Week
World Allergy Week is sponsored by the World Allergy Organization (WAO) and seeks to bring attention to the myriad of conditions that are caused or exacerbated by allergies. The WAO makes available a number of free resources during the week, including downloadable posters, podcasts and webinars. For 2020, WAO focused on how allergy care does not stop with COVID-19.
Founded in 2005, World Allergy Week is designed to "bring together multiple stakeholder groups including physicians, medical educators, patient advocates, policymakers, the general public, and health care authorities for an integrated approach to addressing the needs of patients who suffer from allergic diseases and asthma and those who provide care for them."
How Allergies Affect The Eyes
Allergens, such as pet dander, pollen and dust, can cause your eyes to become red and inflamed. These allergens mostly affect the conjunctiva, the protective tissue that covers the white part of the eyeball.
Eyes are an easy target for allergens since the conjunctiva are directly exposed to the environment without any filters, such as the cilia that protect the lining of the nose. Signs of eye allergies include itching, swelling, burning and redness. When exposed, the cells in the eyes produce histamines that attack the allergens and thus create what we know as an allergy response. Spring and fall tend to be the worst times for eye allergies in the United States.
Most eye allergies resolve themselves without medical assistance or can be aided by flushing the eyes with a solution of lukewarm water. Occasionally, eye allergies require medical intervention, such as when there are extreme pain and redness, heavy discharge and/or when over-the-counter and home remedies are not alleviating the situation. This usually involves prescription eye drops as pills and liquid eye solutions are less effective in treating eye allergies.
Safeguarding Your Eyes From Allergies
Approximately 20 percent of the American public has some type of allergy and about half of these (or around 27 million) suffer from allergic eye disease. Signs of allergic eye disease usually show up early, and most sufferers have symptoms by age 30.
You can help safeguard your eyes and those of your family members by avoiding contact with allergens. This includes keeping windows closed, using a HEPA filter inside and wearing wraparound sunglasses when outdoors.
If you are prone to eye allergies, it's wise to stock up on over-the-counter artificial tears to help flush your eyes or ask your eye doctor for a medication to help block the irritation and the production of histamines.