Drops and simple adjustments at home can help allergy sufferers find relief.

After the winter breaks and it starts getting warmer outdoors, patients begin trickling in complaining of itchy, watery eyes. And right there lies the hallmark symptom of allergies: itching. Other classic symptoms include tearing, burning, foreign body sensation, redness and swelling. Approximately 20 to 40 percent of the population has some form of allergy-related eye problem.

There are two types of allergy sufferers: those whose symptoms peak in the spring and summer and those who have symptoms all year long. Seasonal allergies are usually caused by tree pollen, ragweed and grasses. Year-round (perennial) allergies are mainly caused by household exposure to dust mites, pet dander and mold. Some people definitely know their allergy triggers, but others have an acute reaction once they encounter certain allergens and appear with classic symptoms.

During an eye exam, the key component of an allergy evaluation is a comprehensive ocular and medical history along with careful inspection of the many tissues within the eye.

Upon exposure to any allergen, certain cells in the eyes called mast cells release several chemicals, one of which is histamine. Histamine causes an inflammatory reaction where the blood vessels dilate, increasing the flow of blood to the eye, making it red, swollen and teary.

Treatment can vary as symptomology varies. The best solution is avoiding the particular allergen. Keep the windows to the house and car closed, and wear sunglasses to reduce pollen exposure to the eye. A dehumidifier in damp areas in the home or an air purifier can help curb allergies. Using a cold compress and lubrication can help decrease inflammation and itching. Keeping the artificial tears chilled helps with symptomology. Rubbing, though tempting, is discouraged since it only exacerbates the release of the chemicals from the mast cells, increasing the signs and symptoms.

In addition, eye drops can be prescribed to help soothe the allergy-associated itching. The eye drops work to stop the mast cells from releasing any chemicals, or they prevent the histamine cascade reaction. I always recommend that allergy sufferers begin their drops two weeks before the season starts to help keep their symptoms to a minimum; otherwise, they will be miserable as they play catch-up.

For contact lens wearers, in severe cases some prefer to wear their glasses during this period. Others add extra steps to their routine to ensure they can still wear their contact lenses. I always remind contact wearers to put the drops in their eyes in the morning and to wait about 10 to 15 minutes before they put in their contact lenses. If the eye drop is prescribed twice daily, when they remove their contacts at night, instill another drop. This regimen might not work for all, so I recommend switching to daily disposable contact lenses.

As we approach allergy season, proper preparation and patient education can simplify what an allergy sufferer endures. Proactively managing ocular allergies for non-contact lens wearers and contact lens wearers alike can help us all have an enjoyable spring and summer.