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Eye doctors can diagnose and treat vision issues caused by disease or injury but they can also treat eye problems caused by the environment. These problems can include allergies and UV radiation.
Environmental factors cause a variety of eye problems. An eye care professional can detect eye problems associated with the environment and can even help patients identify the underlying environmental cause of symptoms.
Symptoms of eye problems associated with allergies and other environmental factors include:
The delicate tissues of the eyes are very sensitive to the harsh environment. Some people are allergic to pollens and other substances in the environment, which means they have hypersensitive immune systems that overreact to these allergens. There are several types of eye allergies.
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) is the most common type of eye allergy, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Symptoms usually develop spring through autumn, depending on the type of pollens in the air. Specific pollens release spores into the environment to cause SAC. Grass pollen can cause SAC symptoms in May and June while ragweed problems cause eye allergies in August and September.
SAC may cause “allergic shiners,” which are chronic dark circles under the eyes. As its name implies, an allergic shiner looks like a black eye. Allergic shiners are the result of sinus and nasal congestion leading to blood pooling under the eyes.
People with this seasonal eye allergy may have puffy eyelids and sensitivity to bright lights. Symptoms of hay fever or other seasonal allergies, such as runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion, may accompany SAC. Bothersome itching may lead some patients to rub their eyes frequently, which worsens symptoms and increases the risk for infection.
Perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC) occurs at any time of year. The symptoms of PAC are the same as with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, but milder. Mold, dust mites, pet dander and other household allergens cause PAC symptoms.
There are several other types of eye allergies. Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a more serious eye allergy than SAC or PAC, causing significant itching, tearing and production of thick mucus, light sensitivity and the sensation of a foreign body in the eye. Atopic keratoconjunctivitis causes severe itching, burning and redness. Irritation from contact lenses can cause contact allergic conjunctivitis or giant papillary conjunctivitis.
Many indoor and outdoor substances can trigger eye allergy symptoms. Outdoor allergens include pollens from grass, trees and weeds. Pet dander, dust mites and mold are indoor allergens. Other irritants, such as cigarette smoke, gasoline and perfume can cause eye allergies.
The sun emits life-giving rays but some components of sunlight can be dangerous to unprotected eyes. Excessive exposure to one type of solar radiation in ultraviolet rays can cause photokeratitis. Like sunburn to the eye, photokeratitis can be quite painful. It can also cause red eyes, the sensation of having grit or a foreign body in the eyes, extreme light sensitivity and excessive tearing.
While the sun is the main source of UV radiation, welding machines, tanning beds and lasers can also give off this solar radiation.
Photokeratitis is usually temporary but long-term exposure to UV rays can cause serious damage to the eyes. Exposure to these light rays over many years can increase the risk for cataracts or damage the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye. Longer exposure is associated with greater risk.
To protect the eyes from UV radiation, the American Optometric Association recommends wearing contact lenses designed to block these rays or sunglasses that screen 75 to 90 percent of visible light and are free from distortions and imperfections.
An eye doctor can diagnose eye problems associated with allergies and UV radiation then prescribe a course of treatment. Treatment depends on the cause of the eye problem and the intensity of symptoms.
Treatment for eye allergies can include:
A comprehensive eye exam every two years can monitor eye exposure to UV radiation, pollens and other environmental factors that could affect vision.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.