For Your Eyes Only
By Dr. Rigoberto Rios, MD
Curiously, the time of the year we often consider the most beautiful with the start of an annual cycle, is also the time when a number of physical disorders emerge, and our eyes are not excluded. Spring conjunctivitis, also known as vernal conjunctivitis, is a disease related to allergens in the environment produced by the blossoms on plants and trees. It leads to redness, burning, an itching sensation, and sometimes low visual function. These symptoms can be accompanied by skin or respiratory system disorders related to allergies.
In severe cases spring conjunctivitis can lead to corneal scarring that reduces vision and requires aggressive medical treatment. Some cases can become chronic and cause more intense discomfort and for a much longer period of time, affecting the eyelids permanently and producing internal scars that will compromise your eye health.
Although the name seems to limit the disease to the spring and summer time, in climates as pleasant as Chapala, where plants bloom almost all year round, it is not uncommon to see cases of this disorder in different seasons, the most common being April, May and the early months of the rains.
The treatment in most cases is done with a mild topical steroid or antihistamine, both having the objective of diminishing the inflammation. Ocular lubricants are useful in controlling some of the symptoms. Therefore it is recommended that you always have an eye lubricant available that is free of vessel constrictor. An effective home remedy is to place a cold damp cloth on your eyes and keep them closed for a period of 15 minutes. Do this 3 times per day.
Remember that the drops may have adverse systemic effects, so I recommend not using drugs that contain vasoconstrictors (one of the most commonly used is oxymethazoline) because they may increase blood pressure which could be a problem in patients with hypertension (high blood pressure).
Also, the use of lubricants made with flower extract (chamomile) should be avoided because theoretically they could increase the damage.
The use of topical steroids without medical control and for long periods can cause increased intraocular pressure and lead to glaucoma.
One of the most common recommendations in the scientific literature mentions ¨remove allergen-causing agent¨ which I left as one of my last recommendations, because it is not always possible to identify the specific plant and sometimes it is impossible to isolate or remove it (for example, a jacaranda tree). But, if you can, do it.
You should avoid rubbing your eyes as this can cause increased inflammation and therefore an increase in symptoms. In these circumstances, the use of a lubricant is very helpful.
Exposure to air conditioning can cause an increase in symptoms. This is due to two factors: first, the air produced by these machines tends to lack moisture which increases the feeling of dry eye and a worsening of the itchy, burning sensation; second, many of these machines are often not properly maintained.
If the filters are not working optimally or are not cleaned regularly, the turbulence in the air expands the amount of allergens contacting your eyes. On the upside, if the air conditioner is cleaned regularly and the filters are working properly, it should remove dust particles and other substances in the air that contribute to symptom development in allergic conjunctivitis.
Going to a specialist?
When the symptoms do not subside within a couple of days of applying the above measures, it is best to see a specialist and avoid complications, which although rare, can be limiting.
-Dr. Rios is an opthalmic surgeon who received his medical degree from U de G and did post-graduate work in Italy and Germany. He is a member of the American, European and Mexican Opthamology Societies.