Joys of spring can be lost on allergy sufferers

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We might not get much autumn color here in the Low-country, but we do have the joy of yellow haze that blankets Bluffton and Hilton Head every spring.

Many of our patients say they never had allergies before moving here, and I can sympathize with that. It seems to get worse every year, with sneezing, runny noses, scratchy throats, and watery, itchy eyes.

Depending on the severity, some patients do very well with mild, over-the-counter treatments while others need very strong prescription medications or even shots to be able to function and go about their daily lives.

If you are one of the latter, you know that allergies can be debilitating. We have patients come in who experience blurred vision from excessive watering, patients who are embarrassed about their eyes constantly looking red, and patients whose eyes itch so bad they want to claw them out.

There are a few conservative treatments for ocular symptoms in mild cases. A cool compress over the eyes can decrease some irritation associated with allergies, and over the counter oral medications can help with ocular symptoms.

The downside to the oral medications is they dry you out everywhere, including your eyes. The resulting dry eye can make the eyes scratchy and uncomfortable in addition to the allergies.

There are a few good over-the-counter allergy eye drops that help with ocular itching and redness. Even a lubricant or artificial teardrops can provide some relief by washing away pollen or any allergen that gets trapped in the eye.

For those patients whose symptoms persist despite conservative treatment methods, there are many prescription eye drops with a range of strengths.

Many of the drops contain both an antihistamine (for acute symptoms) and a mast cell stabilizer (which helps minimize future flare ups).

If these classes of medications do not provide relief, there are steroid drops, which calm the inflammatory response of the body in reaction to the allergen. These are usually only used for a short period as steroid drops have potential side effects in the eyes if used chronically.

Although the Lowcountry might be a gorgeous place to live, it can be a pollen-sensitive person's worst nightmare.

If you've suffered through the last few seasons with your current allergy regimen, there may be other options. You don't have to live in fear of walking out the front door every spring.

Kick the itch this year with the help of your eye care provider.

Caroline Bundrick, O.D. is an optometrist practicing at Darling Eye Center, with offices in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.

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