Allergies And The Eyes

Wow, spring! Oh no, spring!

Spring. While it is the beginning of wonderful times filled with colours and flowers for most of the Australians, it is unfortunate that this time of the year is associated with suffering and frustration for many people living here. Yes, we are talking about allergies.

According to Mr Sailesh Vemula, Phd student from UNSW, “One in every three people in Australia suffers from allergy related itchy and watery eyes during the season of spring and summer. This is due to the allergic reaction of the eye’s surface to increased environmental allergens such as pollen (grass, tree and weed).”

Allergies are typically of two forms – seasonal and perennial.

While seasonal allergies are caused due to the exposure to environmental allergens whose concentrations increase dramatically during the seasons of spring and summer, perennial forms of allergies are caused due to indoor allergens like dust mites and pet dander.

Symptoms from perennial forms of allergies are usually chronic and very mild in severity.

However, seasonal allergies are associated with more severe symptoms like redness, itchiness, watering and burning of eyes.  More than 60% of times, these symptoms are accompanied by nasal symptoms such as running nose, sneezing and stuffed/blocked nose making it called Allergic Rhinoconjunctivitis.

A majority of eye allergy sufferers in Australia suffer from both perennial and seasonal forms of allergies. This is characterised by symptoms experienced year long, with a seasonal exacerbation.  ” Mr Sailesh Vemula found from Scientific studies that eye allergies accompanied by nasal symptoms are associated with a significant reduction in the quality of life of the sufferers. Due to its increasing prevalence in various parts of the world, including the Asia Pacific region and its effect on the quality of life of the sufferers, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis is considered a major public health issue.

Treatment options

The 4 treatment and management options recommended by Mr Sailesh Vemula are:

  1. Avoidance therapy: Avoiding the exposure to allergens (whenever possible) that cause the allergic reaction in the eye is one o f the best treatment options for this disease. But to be able to do this, it is necessary for a person to know what they are allergic to. Conventional allergy tests such as a skin prick test or a RAST could be performed for this purpose. The Optometrist can then discuss the avoidance strategies that could be implemented to reduce the chances of an allergic reaction. A vast majority of Australians are allergic to dust mites and grass pollen. Allergic reactions could be effectively minimised by planning avoidance strategies for these two allergens.
  2. Eye drops, nasal sprays and tablets: Allergic reactions are caused due to the release of a substance called histamine, within the mucus membranes of the eye and nose. Histamine acts on the blood vessels of the eye leading to redness and also on the nerves of the eye leading to itchy and watery eyes. A similar mechanism is associated with nasal symptoms as well. Medications called antihistamines act against histamine and block its functioning. This results in an almost immediate relief of allergy symptoms. The effect of these antihistamine medications can last up to 24 hours. There is no consistent evidence of any side effects of long term use of antihistamines. Hence, these medications are usually considered a safe way to get relief from allergy symptoms. Antihistamines are available as eye drops, nasal symptoms and also as tablets. Dosage and the course could be discussed with the practitioner treating specific allergies.
  3. Immunotherapy: Allergy sufferers could also undergo a therapy to get desensitised to specific allergens. This is a time taking process of convincing one’s body that an allergen is harmless.  Sometimes the procedure can take more than a year and can only be performed by trained allergists and immunologists. Due to these reasons, this treatment is relatively more expensive than the other treatment options. Immunotherapy is usually the preferred mode of treatment, if using medications and avoidance strategies significantly impact the life style of a person.
  4. Why should you see an optometrist  for eye allergies?  Scientific literature suggests that a high proportion of Australian population are suffering from undiagnosed forms of ocular allergies. Most of these people resort to over the counter purchase of antihistamines or choose to live with mild eye allergy symptoms as the symptoms are not debilitating. However, it is important to consult an optometrist to get these eye allergy symptoms treated because these mild allergic reactions will eventually lead to inflammatory changes of the surface of the eye. This will subsequently lead to severe damage of the eye which will cause symptoms of dryness and itchiness.

Hence, if someone experiences the symptoms of itchiness or watering consistently or symptoms that increase in severity during specific times of the year, it is important to consult an optometrist to get an opinion about allergies.


For more information on eye health and eye conditions or to find your local Eyecare Plus optometrist visit:

About optometrists:

Optometrists are experts in vision care who diagnose, manage and treat a wide range of vision problems, eye diseases and ocular conditions. By prescribing spectacles, contact lenses, vision aids and other treatments, optometrists help their patients maximise and retain good vision for life.

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