Most Calgarians are looking forward to spring: When the snow melts and the green grass and beautiful flowers return. To celebrate, many families move their quality time outdoors, and avid golfers dust off their clubs and hit the course. However, if you suffer from spring allergies, you may be less excited as spring brings with it itchy, red, and watery eyes.
With climate change, cities like Calgary and the surrounding area are experiencing longer growing seasons and warmer weather, which increases pollen levels. Cities tend to plant male trees (which don’t produce messy flowers or fruit), but do produce the most pollen.
Allergy sufferers in Calgary are facing a tough situation this spring because the air is full of allergens produced by birch and poplar trees, grass, and also have to contend with early spring mould, which grows on decaying leaves that are soggy from snowmelt. Seasonal allergies affect a lot of people, including about 8.4million Canadians.
Symptoms of Spring Allergies
Many people mistake allergy symptoms for cold symptoms. Allergies and colds do have overlapping symptoms (including coughing, stuffy nose, and fever); however, a significant difference is in the length of time it takes to get well. With a cold, you’ll likely feel better within a week, but with allergies, your symptoms could persist for weeks on end.
Symptoms of allergies include:
- Itchy eyes
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Fatigue or general weakness
How Eyes May React to Allergens
Allergy symptoms that affect the eyes, a condition called allergic conjunctivitis, occur when the immune system reacts to something that is usually harmless, such as dust or pollen. When you are allergic to pollen, and it comes in contact with your eyes, they release histamine, a chemical that causes swelling inflammation. This causes the blood vessels within your eyes to swell, making them red, itchy, and teary.
Caring for Your Eyes Before & During Allergy Season
Here are some practical steps you can take to care for your eyes during this season.
Visit Your Optometrist
Before your allergies can be managed effectively, you need to know what, exactly, is causing them. Your optometrist can perform tests during an eye exam to see which potential allergens you react to. They can also recommend suitable antihistamines or medicated eye drops, or suggest strategies you can take to get relief from your allergies.
As much as possible, avoid exposure to allergens. Allergens are the root cause of your discomfort, so avoiding them may help reduce the severity of your symptoms. You should check your furnace filters and change them regularly. Furnace filters filter out allergens such as dust and pollen from the air, but they are only effective when they are clean. Cleaning your house frequently can also prevent dust, pet dander, and pollen from settling, but be sure to use a wet mop instead of a broom. Washing your bedding regularly can also help reduce the number of allergens left to linger in your house.
If your allergies are triggered by pollen, try staying indoors as much as possible. If you want to spend time outside, try checking the local daily pollen count (here is daily pollen count information for both Calgary and Didsbury). You should also drive with the windows up, and consider wearing wrap-around sunglasses to keep pollen away from your eyes.
If you encounter an allergen (such as grass, flowers, or a dog or cat), make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before touching your face.
Reconsider Wearing Contact Lenses in Spring
If your eyes are feeling itchy or watery, you should consider removing and cleaning your contact lenses. Allergens can get trapped under your contact lenses, wreaking all sorts of havoc. You may also want to consider switching to daily disposable lenses since this can help prevent allergens from building up between uses.
If your symptoms persist, you may want to switch to glasses at least temporarily, as they don’t trap allergens and can even help prevent an allergic reaction by blocking some airborne allergens from entering the eyes.
Managing Allergy Symptoms
You may want to speak to your optometrist about using over-the-counter eye drops to help manage your symptoms. For example, artificial tears can provide temporary relief by washing away pollen, as well as lubricating your eyes to reduce irritation. However, make sure that the style of eye drops you choose doesn’t contain preservatives. If you aren’t sure which eye drops are best for you, please speak to your optometrist for suggestions.
Decongesting Eye Drops (With or Without Antihistamines)
Decongestant eye drops can also help temporarily reduce redness and inflammation caused by allergies. If your eyes are itchy, you should consider choosing eye drops that also contain antihistamines. However, decongestant eye drops (either with or without antihistamines) are not suitable for long term use as they can irritate the eye. Speak to your optometrist before using medicated eye drops, and always follow the use instructions on the package carefully.
Oral antihistamines can also help reduce your eye allergy symptoms this spring. However, antihistamines reduce tear production to help with watery eyes, which can cause dry eyes.
Steroids can help treat severe symptoms of dry eyes caused by allergies, but should never be used without first consulting your optometrist.
By booking an appointment with your optometrist to discuss your allergies, you can determine the root cause of your discomfort and determine which management strategy is best suited to your needs.
We rely on our eyes for so much, so it’s important that we work to keep them both healthy and comfortable. By taking steps to protect your eyes before allergy season begins, you can get the relief you need and say goodbye to red, itchy, irritated eyes so you can enjoy spring.