Eye allergies can be frustrating and annoying. A Sam’s Club independent doctor of optometry shares his advice for treating and managing eye irritation.

One of the most notorious yet common health conditions in America is allergic conjunctivitis. Ocular allergies affect 20 – 30 percent of people in the country throughout the year and most likely occur based on the season and surrounding environment. Over $14 billion is spent on allergies for doctor visits, prescriptions and over-the-counter medications each year. But what can you do to avoid the symptoms? The key is to first understand the most common causes and symptoms.

When the ocular tissues are exposed to an allergen, certain cells called mast cells release histamine tissue. Histamine causes dilation of the blood vessels and the associated swelling and warmth that comes from it. Medically, there are several ways to treat these symptoms including drugs that prevent the mast cells from releasing the histamine, others that limit the effect of histamine after it has been released, and others that decrease the inflammation.

Millions of people have either experienced, or have seen someone experience the symptoms of itching, swelling, redness, burning, watery eyes and the overall miserable effect of ocular allergies. Causes include seasonal pollen, ragweed, mold, or dust, also pet dander, certain foods, eye drops, smoke, cosmetics and more. The first step in treatment is to determine the cause of the allergic response. While most individuals already know what they are allergic to, sometimes more detailed allergy testing is required to find the culprit. The ultimate solution to any allergy is avoidance of the allergen, but clearly that is not always an option.

There are many types of over-the-counter eye drops for allergies. The most common are vasoconstrictors, decongestants, antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Your optometrist can also prescribe drops for longer-term use that may be much more effective and safer than some of those found on store shelves. Many sufferers will try numerous drops and may experience a rebound effect from stopping certain over-the-counter medications. Quite often they will wind up carrying a bottle of these drops with them everywhere as even a few hours of non-treatment will create more symptoms due to withdrawal from the drug. Be sure to contact your eye doctor if this is the case.

People often forgo medication altogether. When avoidance is not an option, some treatments that may help are cold compresses, chilled artificial tears, eating a healthy, natural diet and drinking plenty of purified water throughout the day. Using an air filter indoors and wearing sunglasses while outdoors can decrease many of the most common symptoms as well. Personally, I recommend a non-preserved artificial tear drop that can remain chilled before use.

A few other tips to reduce problems are to take off your shoes at the door, keep animals off your bed, and exercise outdoors in the afternoon when pollen counts are often lower.

Contact lens wearers can often experience more frequent ocular allergies if their lenses are not properly cared for each day. Maintaining a consistent cleaning routine and following the recommended disposal time for the contacts is the key to long-term success.

Ocular allergies are often frustrating. However, simple and affordable treatment strategies can provide the best results and minimize any discomfort.

Do you have an experience at the Sams Club Optical Center you would like to share?Send us comments or feedback at hlms@samsclub.com, or write to us at: Healthy Living Made Simple, 1703 Phyllis St., Suite 202, Bentonville, AR 72712.