Driving through the Sonoma wine country last weekend, I thought how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place. The fields were green, the lambs were frolicking and the mustard was in full bloom. Gorgeous! But if you suffer from allergies, Sonoma County can be wicked to your eyes and sinuses. Petaluma tends to be particularly windy, stirring up the pollen even more.

Eye allergies are also called “allergic conjunctivitis.” It is a reaction to indoor and outdoor allergens (such as pollen, mold, dust mites or pet dander) that get into your eyes and cause inflammation of the conjunctiva, the white tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and eyeball. Eye allergies are not contagious.

Other substances called “irritants” (such as dirt, smoke, chlorine, etc.) and even viruses and bacteria, can compound the effect of eye allergies, or even cause irritating symptoms similar to eye allergies for people who are not even allergic. The eyes are an easy target for allergens and irritants because like the skin , they are exposed and sensitive. Dry eyes tend to be more susceptible to ocular allergies because there are less tears to rinse allergens and irritants away.

Certain medications and cosmetics can also cause eye allergy symptoms. By way of response to these allergens and irritants, the body releases chemicals called histamines, which in turn causes inflammation. This reaction makes the eye tissues red and swollen.

The signs of eye allergies are red, itchy, burning, tearing, swollen eyes, along with a gritty sensation. These symptoms may be accompanied by a runny or itchy nose, sneezing, coughing, or a sinus headache. Many sufferers also find that their vision is temporarily blurred.

I find it best to treat eye allergies before the onset of symptoms, but treatment can improve comfort and the appearance of the eye anytime. Do not suffer, there are treatments to control eye allergies.

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