What are allergies?
Allergies are a reaction your body may have to substances it sees as harmful or foreign. Substances that can cause an allergic reaction are called allergens.
How do they occur?
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances. Before you can have a reaction to a particular substance, your immune system must first be sensitized to it. Usually this means your body has to have been exposed to the substance at least once before. Once sensitized, your body will react every time you have contact with the substance.
Many substances can cause an allergic reaction. The most common are:
- animal dander
- dust and dust mites
- insect stings
Allergens may cause different kinds of reactions. It is not known why some people develop allergies. Allergies run in families. However, not every family member may be allergic to the same things or have the same reactions.
Sometimes an allergic reaction may be severe. This is called anaphylaxis and is a life-threatening emergency.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of an allergic reaction depend on the type and severity of the reaction. Common symptoms of an allergy are:
- itchy, watery eyes
- stuffy or runny nose
- swelling–for example, swelling of the eyelids
- a rash or hives (raised, red, itchy areas on the skin)
- stomach cramps
How are ocular allergies diagnosed?
Your eye doctor will ask about your history of symptoms and examine you.
You may have tests to find out what you are allergic to. For most people the best tests are skin scratch or prick tests. For these tests tiny amounts of suspected allergens are put under your skin. Testing for common Florida regional allergies is now available at the Rand Eye Institute. TearLab testing can also help differentiate ocular allergies from dry eyes as the symptoms are often similar.
How are they treated?
Depending on the type of allergy you have and your symptoms, your eye doctor may prescribe topical or oral treatments including:
- steroid medications
Using a steroid for a long time can have serious side effects. Take steroid medicine exactly as your healthcare provider prescribes. Don’t take more or less of it than prescribed by your provider and don’t take it longer than prescribed. Don’t stop taking a steroid without your provider’s approval. You may have to lower your dosage slowly before stopping it.
Mild symptoms may not need treatment. In some cases artificial tears may be sufficient to help lubricate and rinse away any surface allergens. Cold Compresses are also quite helpful to reduce itching and swelling.
In some cases, your provider may suggest allergy shots by an allergist, dermatologist or ENT. Shots may be recommended if your allergy symptoms cannot be controlled with medicine, especially if your allergies are severe.
How long will the effects last?
Allergies last different amounts of time from person to person. Some are seasonal and others can present year-round. Some people outgrow their allergies. Others have allergies all their life.
How can I take care of myself?
- Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
- Try to avoid the things you are allergic to.
- If you tend to have severe allergy reactions, ask your allergist, dermatologist or ENT about carrying emergency medicine, such as epinephrine. Wear an ID, such as a Medic Alert bracelet, that lists your severe allergies.