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Indoor vs. Outdoor Eye Allergens

John Bankston John Bankston August 6, 2021
Medically reviewed by Chhavi Gandhi, MDSusan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

If you have allergies, there may not be an ideal season. That’s because many allergy sufferers are allergic to multiple allergens. During the spring and summer, you may be more vulnerable when you’re enjoying the great outdoors. Yet you’re hardly comfortable tucked inside during the winter, when allergens around your house are the likely culprit. There are a multitude of allergens. Discovering which ones you’re allergic to often requires a visit to the allergist. In the meantime, here’s what to keep in mind when comparing indoor versus outdoor eye allergens along with some tips to minimize your symptoms. 


Understanding Allergies


Your body successfully fights off invaders every day. Yet for people with allergies, the immune system can be as much a foe as a friend. That’s because it’s overactive. When it encounters an allergen like dust or pollen, it produces histamines which usually protect you by causing your blood vessels to expand and your skin to swell. When you are allergic, these histamines provoke an allergic reaction which can include itchy or watery eyes. That’s why eye drops containing antihistamines are often effective because they block that reaction. 


It’s easy to see why our eyes often get the brunt of it. After all, they are the least protected. With “allergic conjunctivitis” or eye allergies, the conjunctiva tissue lining the outside of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid gets inflamed. While bacterial and viral infections can have redness, tearing and pain, sometimes just on one side, eye allergies usually trigger severe itching in both eyes.


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Allergic Rhinitis & Conjunctivitis - Overview

Allergic Rhinitis & Conjunctivitis - Overview

Outdoor Allergens


Seasonal allergies are often caused by pollinating plants like ragweed, grass, or trees. You might notice red, itchy eyes after a morning jog or an afternoon in the garden. Plant cycles vary depending upon where you live and the time of year. This means your best bet is to keep track of local pollen counts. Most weather apps offer this information, along with air quality readings (because airborne pollution and smoke can also trigger non-allergic reactions that include itchy eyes). The best way to combat outdoor eye allergens is to remove yourself from the environment as much as possible. That means avoiding outdoor activities when the pollen count is highest. Running your AC at night can help––especially if it’s equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Avoid hanging your laundry to dry outside where it can easily collect pollen. Those tiny particles can also attach themselves to your clothes like stowaways when you come inside, so it’s a good idea to keep your outdoor outfits separate. During the day, you may find that sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat offer unbeatable protection against pollen and other airborne allergens. 


Indoor Allergens


Every year in the United States, around 50 million endure an allergic reaction from one thing or another. Most are allergic to more than one thing, which is why it’s less a matter of worrying about indoor versus outdoor eye allergens than protecting yourself against them all. Pet dander––especially from cats––is a primary concern for people with indoor allergies. The protein in their saliva and skin can trigger a reaction––including life-threatening asthma. Still, giving away your pets probably feels like giving away your children––and even if your little ones made you sneeze, you likely wouldn’t put them up for adoption. Instead, thorough cleaning is key. A vacuum designed for sucking up fur that uses a HEPA filter can be helpful along with running a HEPA filter in your bedroom with the door closed.. Regularly grooming the family pets by either a professional or someone who doesn’t have allergies can temporarily reduce their dander. If possible, your furbaby should have his or her own bed outside of your bedroom. If they do sleep with you, keep them away from your face and have your comforters and blankets steam cleaned regularly.


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Allergic Rhinitis & Conjunctivitis - Prevention

Allergic Rhinitis & Conjunctivitis - Prevention

Tiny allergens called dust mites are also a common source of eye irritation.Using special dust mites covers for your mattress and pillows, as well as hot water washing your bedsheets, can help decrease your exposure. In some cases, removing excess pillows, drapery and carpet can be helpful.  Cockroaches and mice are another unpleasant source of allergies. 


Oral antihistamines or eye drops containing antihistamines can often reduce the itchy, watery eyes of seasonal allergies. Many people  have had success with immunotherapy––allergy shots which slowly build up a patient’s resistance to allergens. Another type of needle, acupuncture, has not yet been proven for reducing allergy symptoms although it doesn’t cause harm. For most sufferers, improving their environment and avoiding allergens are the best defense. 

Doctor Profile

John Bankston


John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.

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