Kids & allergies – an optometrists perspective


It’s easy to bush off allergy symptoms as simply annoying, but mild symptoms may lead to more serious outcomes.

What is an allergic reaction?
An allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to something that is harmless to most people. The immune system treats that substance as an invader and tries to fight it off causing symptoms.

I have allergies, will my child develop allergies too?
The tendency to develop allergies is often hereditary, which means that it can be passed down through genes from parents to their children. But, it is also common for children to suffer with allergies even if no family member has a history of allergies. Children who are allergic to one substance are likely to be allergic to others.

What does an eye allergy look like?
The medical name for eye allergies is Allergic Conjunctivitis. Allergic eyes look shiny and watery. The eyes are teary and appear slightly red or pink on the white visible portions. The eyelid margin and overall eyelids may be slightly swollen. There is usually no mucous discharge or pain but allergic eyes are itchy, gritty and may feel “sandy�?.

What can trigger eye allergies?
Pollens cause seasonal allergies and come from trees, grass and weeds. Moulds from rotting leaves and compost piles are common in autumn and the rainy seasons. It is very difficult to avoid pollens and moulds because they are in the air. Most eye allergies continue through the pollen season and can last 4 to 8 weeks.

Dust mites are also a common cause of allergies. These are microscopic insects and are the main allergic component of house dust. Dust mites may be present all year round in bedding, upholstery and carpets.

Allergens from warm-blooded animals can cause problems for kids and parents alike. Dander is tiny flakes of shed skin, fur, or feathers and can also lead to allergies.

How do we avoid airborne allergies?

  • Keep family pets out of your child’s bedroom.
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  • Remove carpets or rugs from your child’s bedroom. Hard floors collect less dust. 
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  • Avoid heavy curtains and items that collect dust easily.
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  • Keep windows closed when the pollen season is at its peak. 
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  • Have your child change clothes or even take a bath or shower after being outdoors in peak pollen times. 
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  • Keep kids who are allergic to moulds away from damp areas and compost piles.

How are allergies diagnosed?
If your child has cold-like symptoms lasting longer than a week or two or develops a "cold" at the same time every year, talk with your GP or pediatrician who will ask about the symptoms and when they appear. To find the cause of an allergy, doctors usually do skin tests for the most common environmental and food allergens. An Optometrist will ask you questions about your child’s symptoms and their frequency and inspect the eyes under magnification.

How are allergies treated?
There is no cure for allergies, but symptoms can be managed. If avoiding environmental allergens is not possible, a doctor may prescribe medicines including antihistamines and nasal sprays.

Your optometrist may advise eye drops that are safe and effective for children. Many of these are also available without a prescription. Moisture drops can re-balance the tear layer and wash out the allergens to a large extent. In conjunction with moisture drops, antihistamine eye drops reduce the allergic response and alleviate symptoms of redness and itching. Avoid choosing off-the shelf eye drops for children. Your optometrist will advise you on the safest and most effective options.

What are the outcomes of untreated allergies?
Chronic or ongoing allergies are a body’s battle. A system that is fighting an allergy is fatigued and compromised. Eyes that are itchy, swollen and watery reduce the child’s ability to concentrate in class.

Chronic itchiness leads to chronic rubbing. Frequent rubbing can distort and wear out the front surface of the eye (the cornea) permanently. This leads to a permanent change in vision.

Although allergies cannot be cured, finding relief from symptoms for your child and managing eye allergies effectively with your optometrist is possible. 

You might also want to read about the four things you should do to keep your kids healthy.