How Can Springtime Pollen Hurt My Eyes?
Atlanta has long been known for its lush greenery, and has even famously been called “the city in the woods.” Ubiquitous trees, bushes, and flowers mean that the return of spring, along with its warmer temperatures, can be a particularly beautiful time. However, for people affected by seasonal allergies in the Atlanta metropolitan area, the high pollen counts during this time of year can be a nightmare. Not only are watery-eyes and running-noses irritating, but the swelling, itching, and redness caused by pollen can also potentially have adverse effects on your eyes and vision. Understanding the dangers that allergies can pose to your eyes, and how to best avoid or treat them, is one of the best ways to keep your eyesight strong and sharp.
Eye allergies, which are also known as ocular allergies or allergic conjunctivitis, affect approximately one in five Americans. They occur when foreign materials like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold are carried through the air and come into contact with the conjunctiva, a mucous membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the whites of the eyes. The body’s immune system typically responds to these allergens by trying to flush them out, specifically by releasing histamine and other substances that make the eyes red, itchy, and watery. While this is usually a relatively minor inconvenience, in people who are particularly sensitive the reaction can be severe. The resulting inflammation may even cause short-term blurriness or other changes in vision.
While these symptoms are natural and relatively short-lived, posing no serious threat to the eyesight, some of their side effects, or even our reactions to them, can potentially be more problematic. When the eyes water excessively, for example, the composition of the tears can subtly change. Tears that are too “watery” and lack necessary mucus and oils will evaporate too quickly, leaving the eyes insufficiently lubricated and ironically making them more prone to chronic dry eye. If left untreated, dry eye can lead to a host of potentially serious eye problems. Moreover, when the eyes itch, it is only natural to want to rub them. In moderation this can even be helpful, since rubbing the eyes stimulates the flow of tears, and lubricates dry eyes while flushing away dust and other irritants. However, excessive rubbing can potentially cause damage, either by exposing the eyes to bacteria or even by scratching the eye’s surface and creating an open sore which could develop into a corneal ulcer. In those who have pre-existing eye conditions, like progressive myopia (or nearsightedness), chronic eye-rubbing can, over time, lead to a gradual thinning of the cornea. Eventually, the weakened cornea becomes less round and more football-shaped, a serious condition known as keratoconus that can lead to distorted vision and eventually the need for a corneal transplant.
Finally, some of the symptoms that are commonly associated with eye allergies, such as the reddening of the scelera ( the white portion of the eye) may also be the result of more serious eye conditions, including eye infections, glaucoma, or corneal ulcers. So if your symptoms persist, despite limiting your exposure to allergy triggers or using artificial tears or anti-histamine eye drops, you may want to come in to Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons for a comprehensive medical eye examination. During that evaluation, Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay will be able to determine the underlying cause of your discomfort and find a treatment option that will be effective for you. If you have any concerns about your vision, or any questions about how to best maintain the health of your eyes, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear and healthy.