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As lush tree leaves and flowers bloom, so do eye allergies

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Ah, spring. The time of year when trees and flowers bloom, sending pollen into the air and causing sneezing, runny noses and watery eyes. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America estimates that 1 in 5 individuals are affected by eye allergies.

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Eye allergies can cause discomfort for contact lens wearers.

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For contact lens wearers, spring allergies may bring some discomfort, even for those who have successfully worn the lenses for many years. Nearly half of the individuals who wear contact lenses report problems with contact lenses during allergy season, according to the AAFA.

"Once the allergens, such as pollen, become airborne, they can land anywhere and cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat," said Melanie Pickett, O.D., an optometrist with the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute and director of the Optometry Clinic. "It's important to take good care of your contacts during any season, but it's particularly important during spring -- and fall -- allergy seasons."

Pickett said pollen and other allergens can bind to or build up under the contact lens, which causes irritation. That prompts contact lens wearers to rub their eyes, which can worsen the situation.

To avoid irritants on the contact lenses, Pickett said many contact lens wearers opt for daily disposable contact lenses. "Irritants can't build up and cause discomfort with disposable lenses," Pickett said. Lens wearers who don't use disposable lenses should clean their lenses daily by rubbing them gently with their fingers using lens cleaner.

"Using the rub and rinse method with lens cleaner should help the problem," Pickett said. "Never use tap water to clean contact lenses. And never remove your lens and place it in your mouth to add moisture. That's not a good idea, even if your lenses are dry and are irritating your eye."

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Contact Lens Association for Ophthalmologists urge proper care of contact lenses during all seasons, including:

  • Wash hands with soap and water before touching eyes and lenses.
  • Do not use tap water to clean your contact lenses or to store the lenses.
  • Do not use a saline solution when you want to disinfect lenses.
  • Follow the care guide for your brand of contact lenses.
  • Rinse the contact lens case with solution - not water - and let the case air dry. Replace the case at least every three months.

Contact lens wearers who suffer from allergies should remove their lenses and use artificial tears to relieve discomfort in mild cases, Pickett said. Cool compresses also are effective for irritated eyes.

"We also can offer our patients prescription allergy eye drops," Pickett noted. Always check with your eye care professional before using anti-inflammatory or antihistamines as your doctor can prescribe the medication that's right for you.

Seasonal allergy sufferers also can check the daily pollen count to monitor the air quality. Websites such as offer daily allergy forecasts; many local media sources also offer daily pollen information.

Contact lens wearers who experience blurry vision, unusual redness, tearing or pain, discharge, or sensitivity should contact their eye care professional immediately. Those symptoms can indicate keratitis, which can cause vision loss or blindness.

To read more articles from the School of Medicine, visit