Finally, it’s fall! The mercury is finally starting to drop. I’ve moved my sweaters and coats from storage back to their rightful places in my closet. The stores are filling with cute costumes, pumpkin pies, tailgating snacks, and… allergy medicine.
The scariest thing about fall isn’t the spooky Halloween displays, but the amount of poor zombies walking around with watery, itchy eyes thanks to seasonal allergic eye disease, which affects between one-fourth and one-third of the US population.
Sad but true: you can develop first-time allergies at any time—even in your 50s, 60s, and 70s. It’s a result of your immune system building up a response after cumulative years of exposure to similar things.
What Causes Allergies
While pollen is otherwise harmless, if your immune system IDs it as an enemy, it’s going to be on high alert and (over)react. Most importantly, your cells will release an antibody called IgE that spurs the release of substances like histamine, sparking a chain reaction of symptoms. The biggest fall trigger is ragweed, which releases its pollen in August, September, and October. Unfortunately, anyone who’s suffered spring allergies is at risk of a ragweed intolerance too: 75 percent of people with spring allergies are also allergic to ragweed. A single plant can release a billion grains of pollen per season, and this pollen can float on the wind for hundreds of miles.
Mold thrives until the first frost and can be found lurking in the damp autumn. Piles of crunchy, cheerful leaves turn into a breeding ground for this funk after being hit by dew and drizzle. Mold is also scarily common in schools, and the spores irritate the eyes and nose.
Have you vacuumed your house recently? It might not matter if dust mites are behind your seasonal eye allergies. Dust mites are much more common during the summer, but the first time you turn on your heater can stir these little critters into the hair. Hello, toasty house; hello, sneezing, wheezing, runny nose, and goopy eyes!
There are a few things you can do to reduce your allergic response.
Showering frequently will remove pollen from your hair and skin, and keeping up with the laundry will reduce the allergen’s spores from contact with the air of your home. Keep windows closed during high pollen days.
Some foods have natural antihistamine properties that can reduce your body’s reaction to high-alert triggers.
- Fresh foods with vitamin C: citrus fruits, juices, fresh produce (or carrots, which are also great for eyesight!)
- Foods with a bioflavonoid called quercetin stabilize cells and prevent the release of histamine: citrus fruits, onions, garlic, apples, parsley, tea, lettuce, wine, and legumes
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids combat inflammation: salmon, tuna, mackerel, and flaxseed oil
Diagnosis and Treatment
Seasonal allergic eye disease is annoying and uncomfortable at best and painful at worst. Symptoms like watery, itchy, red, sore, swollen, or stinging eyes can cause additional health problems, like trouble sleeping, lethargy, poor concentration, and lowered productivity. What’s a person to do? You can see your primary care physician for a skin test, which involves lots of needles.
Otherwise, you can schedule an appointment at OCLI. I can prescribe a few things to ease your suffering, from steroid sprays to antihistamine eye drops. Cold compresses can do wonders to release swelling, particularly if they’re very cold. I occasionally will also prescribe medicated eye drops or low doses of topical steroids. This can really only be done with the careful guidance of an ophthalmologist because prolonged usage can cause glaucoma or cataracts.