Spring has officially arrived which means allergy season is here – or quickly approaching. If you’re amongst the 8 million Canadians (one-quarter of the country) that has seasonal allergies, you’ve probably experienced some form of itchy, red, dry, or watery eyes.
Seasonal allergies are caused by the high pollen released by trees, grass, outdoor moulds, and ragweed. They begin in the spring, peak in the summer, and can last as late as fall.
Most of us know when seasonal allergies strike because we start to experience mild to extreme discomfort in our eyes, but have you ever wondered what’s actually causing our eyes to react? Dr. Marino Discepola from McGill University’s Department of Ophthalmology explains:
“When an allergen affects us, it binds to receptor cells called mast cells… we have 50 million of them in a mucous membrane on the surface of our eyelids called the conjunctiva.
When mast cells in the conjunctiva come into contact with an allergen, they release a chemical called histamine, which stimulates the nerves in the eye, making it itchy and watery. The eye is trying to remove the allergen, not realizing that it is harmless.
The release of histamine also causes dilation of the blood vessels on the surface of the eye, which makes your eyes red.”
Most allergens are seasonal, which in most cases last between four to six weeks.
Here are the best -and safest- ways to manage your eyes this allergy season:
- Get in the habit of checking your local pollen forecast, which provides you with a daily outlook on the types and severity of pollen in the air.
- Pick up over-the-counter eye drops, or speak with your local eye doctor about prescription eye drops if discomfort persists.
- Place cold compresses on your eyes, this can help relieve the itching sensation.
- Despite temptation, DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES, as this will only make your eyes worse and can potentially cause long-term damage.
If you’re experiencing persistent eye discomfort as a result of seasonal allergies, be sure to book an appointment with your local doctor of optometry to discuss your options.