With the changing of the seasons I have noticed several cases of ocular allergies, ocular dryness and general contact lens discomfort in my exam room. There are several common symptoms associated with these conditions: eyes “burning”, red eyes, eyes and eyelids itching, eyes watering constantly, the sensation of having something in your eye and simply having contact lenses feel uncomfortable. I want to stress that this is not a complete list of symptoms nor is it a diagnostic guide. If you are having discomfort, pain or any new/changing symptoms associated with your eyes please contact an optometrist or other health care professional.
So why do eyes often itch as seasons change? They itch for the same reasons we experience upper respiratory and sinus troubles this time of year. As seasons change, allergens (little things that cause allergic reactions) blow through the air. Some common examples of allergens are ragweed, pollen and mold. These tiny particles are inhaled into our upper respiratory system and cause an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can be thought of as mild inflammatory reactions with pronounced itching and mucus production. This is why we are uncomfortable, have pronounced coughs and have difficulty breathing or sleeping with seasonal allergies. Relative to the eye these tiny particles can affect the conjunctiva (the lining on the inside of your eyelids) and create small, irritating bumps which become inflamed and can itch severely. This can be especially pronounced in contact lens wearers. In cases of ocular allergies, I will often recommend discontinuation of contact lens wear for a short period and have the patient opt for wearing glasses while prescribing a short term eye drop for pharmacological therapy. I always recommend contact lens patients have a back-up pair of glasses for instances such as this.
Dry eyes abound this time of year as the cool air loses humidity and we run our heaters at home and in vehicles to combat the cold. A very common complaint in such cases is “burning”. Your eye takes in moisture from the atmosphere and can be significantly affected when dry, winter air rolls in. Having the heater running feels great for warmth, but it is basically like blowing a hair dryer into your eyes! This is another instance where contact lens wearers tend to suffer more than the rest of us. My typical recommendation here is, again, to discontinue contact lens wear and move to a pair of glasses for vision correction while prescribing a lubricant eye drop and making small environmental changes to help restore the ocular surface.
Both of the common diagnoses listed above are great reasons for contact lens wearers to have a set of glasses on hand. That being said- anyone can be affected by ocular allergies and dryness! Do not hesitate to contact an optometrist or other health care professional if you are having any issues with your eyes or overall health. Furthermore, please do not assume that all of the symptoms listed above fall into the categories of dryness and allergies. Many signs and symptoms of serious bacterial infection overlap with the signs and symptoms of eye allergies and dryness. It is always best to play it safe and have a doctor check out what is happening.
If you are a contact lens wearer please consider keeping a pair of glasses around just in case you ever need to discontinue contact wear for temporary eye health purposes. There are numerous reasons I might recommend switching to glasses for short term therapy.