Millions of Americans suffer unnecessarily with itchy, gritty, watery eyes, according to allergists at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) in Phoenix. The underdiagnosis, undertreatment and self-treatment of eye allergies may seriously diminish quality of life, allergists say.
"For every one eye allergy medicine prescribed, 40 people are treating themselves with over-the-counter eye medicine from their local pharmacy," allergist Leonard Bielory, MD, chair of the ACAAI Ocular Allergy Committee. "The over-the-counter product may relieve the symptoms for a short time, but long-term, these patients need to see an allergist who can develop a complete treatment plan to eliminate the disease."
Eye allergy symptoms are regularly reported as one of the top three allergy complaints, according to the Allergies in America Survey. Forty percent of adults in the United States experience eye allergies and more than 40 million bottles of eye allergy medicine are sold in the U.S. each year.
"The focus for people with allergies is usually their skin, lungs and nasal symptoms," said Dr. Bielory. "But what people don''t realize is that the burning, itching, watery, gritty or sandy feeling they have in their eyes can and deserves to be treated. Anyone with these symptoms should see an allergist to have their allergies identified and resolved."
Common eye allergy symptoms or abnormalities are:
• tearing, watery
• gritty, sandy feeling
• absence of proper blinking reflex
"Physicians need to be aware of the seriousness of eye allergies," said ACAAI Past PresidentMichael S. Blaiss, MD. "These allergies, which often go hand in hand with nasal allergies, may affect one''s capacity to enjoy activities like reading, driving, playing outdoor sports or gardening."
To help those suffering with eye allergies, Dr. Bielory advises physicians to administer the Ocular Surface Disease Index. This is a standardized, easily performed questionnaire that allows doctors to evaluate symptoms and diagnose eye diseases such as conjunctivitis and dry eye syndrome
"This tool helps us to discover the cause, not just relieve symptoms," said Dr. Bielory. "From there we can get to the source of the allergy and fix it with one of many treatment options available to our patients, avoidance of the allergen, pharmacotherapy (drugs or medicine), or immunotherapy (allergy shots)."
Those who suspect they may have eye allergies should get tested by an allergist - a physician who is an expert in diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma.