May 17, 2006
It is estimated that 20% of all Americans will suffer ocular ("ocular" means related to the eye) allergies this year. The degree of the allergy can vary from mild itchiness to such severity that can render a person unable to carry on daily activities.
Today, new treatment options make "suffering in silence" or home remedies wholly unnecessary.
What is an allergy? Basically, a material called an antigen is introduced to the body, causing a hypersensitive reaction. In effect, the body is fooled into thinking that this otherwise harmless substance is infecting it, so it brings out the "artillery" to wipe it out. To continue the metaphor, the individual becomes the victim of "friendly fire."
Inflammatory proteins called histamines are released from specialized cells called mast cells, causing a reactive cascade of swelling, rash, or redness. The more frequently the antigen comes in contact with the individual, the more rapid and dramatic the reaction. When the antigen is ingested or injected, the potential for serious, even life-threatening, reaction is quite real. If it's on the surface, or topical, it's usually just uncomfortable. The hallmark symptom of ocular allergy is itching or burning. It usually affects the protective membrane called the conjunctiva, so the most common allergic reaction is called allergic conjunctivitis.
How do we treat AC? First, let me tell you what you shouldn't do. The top of the list is rubbing the eyes. Rubbing the eyes is like scratching a rash. What actually happens is that the mast cells rupture, releasing histamines and production of more mast cells . . .what a mess! Next are the over-the-counter anti-histamines. First, they can neutralize some histamines, but they do not prevent, and can often stimulate, the release of more histamines. In addition, almost all of them have a drug that shrinks the blood vessels, making the eye look better. Frequent use will cause the vessel walls to lose their elasticity, causing chronic redness and congestion. If you feel you have to self-treat, you're better off simply using cool compresses.
These days, the best treatments by far are prescription drops. Oral anti-allergy medications usually won't give a concentrated enough effect on the eye's surface, and can often cause dryness. The newest eye drop medications will often be effective with daily or twice-daily doses. These drops usually will suppress mast cell production, heading off histamines before they're released instead of after. If that's not enough, other more potent drops are available. Side effects are rare with any of the new medications.
I would like to emphasize that when it comes to ocular allergies, you should use the resources of modern medicine rather than far less effective home remedies.
North Fork Optical Center
PO Box 1419
Mattituck Center, Main Rd
Mattituck, New York 11952