It starts off like a slow-building itch that tempts you to rub at or try to wipe your eyes clean. But then, the feeling gets increasingly worse. Suddenly, you’ve got swollen, red, itchy eyes that seem to burn all day no matter what you do.
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If you’re also experiencing pain, discharge, sensitivity to light or have a gritty feeling in your eyes, you may have an eye infection. But if you’ve got swollen, puffy, dry red eyes that itch and burn incessantly, you may be dealing with hard-hitting allergies.
Ophthalmologist Nicole Bajic, MD, provides a list of small things you can do at home that can help bring some much-needed relief to your allergy-impacted eyes.
How to find relief
Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is your typical seasonal allergic reaction that comes with a whole host of symptoms, including:
- Runny nose.
- Nasal congestion.
- Swollen and watery eyes.
- Itchy nose, ears, eyes throat and/or mouth.
And while we know allergy season is year-round for many people, for others, it’s truly seasonal — but regardless of timing, perhaps the most antagonizing symptom is the impact on your ever-so-vulnerable eyes.
“During allergy season, sensitive allergy-prone eyes frequently develop itching and other symptoms simply because they’re exposed to triggers like tree pollen, grass, mold and ragweed that come with the changing seasons,” says Dr. Bajic.
Of course, you can help stave off many of these symptoms by starting your allergy medication early (or even before allergy season hits). But allergies are worse now than ever before. Luckily, if you’ve been putting off your allergy medication and are caught in the throes of allergic reactions, there are these home remedies you can do to give yourself a little bit of relief.
Use eye drops
Getting over-the-counter eye drops may seem like a no-brainer, but there are different kinds of eye drops to choose from. Artificial tears can help lubricate your eyes when you’re dealing with dry eye. Then, there are eye drops that help reduce redness by shrinking blood vessels in your eye. But what you want to look for are allergy drops that work to block your body’s histamine response and address all three symptoms of dryness, redness and itchiness.
“People typically experience the most relief if they’re using allergy drops consistently and at the start of every day,” Dr. Bajic adds.
Try a cold compress
If your eyes are still itchy even after you’ve tried eye drops, or if they’re itchy at the end of the day when you’re looking for last-minute relief while lying in bed, try using a cold compress. Placing a damp, cold washcloth over your eyes can help relieve some of the discomfort you’re experiencing by reducing blood flow and swelling to the area.
Take a shower before bed
Your eyelids, eyelashes, eyebrows and hair are like tiny cotton swabs that collect pollen throughout the day. By taking a shower before bed, you help prevent tracking all that pollen back to the place where you sleep. Doing so can also give your eyes a much-needed break when they probably need it the most.
“Decreasing your exposure to allergens as much as possible will help decrease the amount of symptoms you experience,” reinforces Dr. Bajic.
Change your bedding more frequently
It might sound like a daunting task, but washing your bedding in hot water once a week can actually reduce your exposure to a lot of allergens like dust, pollen, mold and pet dander that just build up over time. Changing your clothes when you get home after being outside and washing them regularly throughout the week can also have the same preventive effect.
Close the windows in your car and home
It helps to think of your allergies the same way you think about sun protection: It doesn’t hurt to have year-round protection. But when allergies are at their peak, you could benefit from additional protective measures. Wear sunglasses to cover your eyes and reduce exposure to airborne grass or tree pollen, keep your car windows closed while driving and close your windows at home — especially when there are sudden shifts in weather.
Use an air purifier
Using an air purifier in your home has numerous benefits beyond just allergen control. Studies have shown they can improve conditions like asthma, as well as improve blood pressure, heart rate and lung functioning.
Avoid rubbing your itchy eyes
It might seem counterintuitive to say you shouldn’t rub your eyes when they’re bothering you, but you really should avoid doing it as much as possible!
Touching your eyes could end up transferring even more pollen that’s on your hands and clothes directly to your eyes, alongside other bacteria, which could lead to infection.
You could also scratch your cornea, resulting in severe pain and other issues. Plus, if you keep wiping your eyes, they could over-produce ineffective lubrication, leading to a cyclical behavior known as mucus fishing syndrome.
Bottom line? If home remedies aren’t offering relief, seek out a healthcare provider who can determine which eye allergy treatment is best for you.