My mom has some of the worst allergies you can possibly imagine. I remember as a child waking up some days to see her eyes swollen shut from an allergic reaction; I didn’t understand why it was happening, so I simply told folks she was allergic to her own eyes. As it turns out, I was very likely misunderstanding exactly what was happening, because allergies are almost always a response to external stimuli. You might have experienced red eyes, itching or swelling in the past; it could very well have been from allergies.

An allergic response is caused by a hyperactive immune system that responds to harmless substances as though they were dangerous; the substances it responds to are known as allergens. There’s a wide variety of different substances that can be interpreted as dangerous; insect bites, pollen, dust, metal, woold and foods can all create allergic reactions. The reactions that occur can differ in severity drastically; my allergies to cat dander result in itchy eyes and a sore throat at worst, while my mother’s could practically send her into anaphylactic shock and trigger her asthma. People in highly developed countries tend to be more prone to allergies; the exact cause is unknown, but a popular concept is the “hygiene hypothesis”.

When it comes to eye allergies, prevention is key; there’s no cure as of yet for allergies. Be observant of air quality, using your own senses and government run air quality indicators. When pollen levels are high or air quality is low, close your windows and avoid going outside, if possible. It’s also a good idea to run an air conditioner; these devices don’t just make the air cold, they clean it through dehumidification. Other dust and mite removal strategies are key; you should use mite-proof bedding to reduce your morning allergies. Change the filters in your furnace regularly. When cleaning your home, opt to mop instead of sweep to stop dust from getting into the air; clean surfaces with a damp cloth in order to pick up the dust rather than moving it about. Wear protective eyewear when working with wood or other dust emitting substances, and opt to wear glasses or sunglasses outside on low air quality days. Wash your hands after petting animals, and don’t bring your face close to them, no matter how tempting it might be (I’m definitely guilty of this particular foible).

When you know you’re going to come in contact with allergens, you may be tempted to use oral antihistamines; be aware that these drugs actually cause dry eye. If your allergies are eye-only, opt for antihistamine eye drops; even non-prescription artificial tears can help keep your eyes feel their best. Holding a cold cloth to your eyes can help reduce inflammation and itchiness. Should you experience chronic and debilitating eye allergies, visit your Winnipeg optometrist to be sure there’s no underlying damage or problems; consult with an allergist or physician as well, in order to see what steps you can take to control your allergy.