Your eyes are bloodshot and itchy. Your nose is stuffy. Or runny. You probably have a late winter cold or an early spring allergy. Either way, you need relief! But before you take over-the-counter or prescription medicine to relieve your symptoms, here are some things you should know.
The Eyes Have It
Nonprescription eye drops come in several forms. One is called artificial tears, used for cleansing and moisturizing the eye. The other kind, called a vasoconstrictor, is used to get the red out of bloodshot eyes.
Artificial tears are recommended for people with dry eyes. This ailment might be a natural result of the aging process or be caused by diseases, exposure to sun, wind, or dust in the environment, or indoor fans or air conditioners. Artificial tears may soothe eyes that feel gritty in the morning. They can be used whenever needed, but some brands contain preservatives to kill bacteria. If you use this type too often, the preservatives can build up to harmful levels and damage cells on the eye’s surface. If you find you need artificial tears frequently, consult your doctor. You may have a problem that needs additional treatment.
A vasoconstrictor also can be overused. This product works by shrinking the blood vessels in the eye so less blood flows through them. If you follow the directions on the label for this kind of eye drop, your eyes should clear up.
However, in a condition known as rebound congestion, the body builds a dependence on the medicine, and the blood vessels dilate, or enlarge, in spite of the medicine. As more blood flows through them, the eyes get redder, prompting the user to reach for more eye drops. If you find yourself needing this kind of product for more than two or three days, stop using it and consult a physician.
A new kind of eye drop may soon be available that will work as a sunblock for the eyes. Drops tested at the University of Southern California’s Doheny Eye Institute could protect eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays – the same light that causes sunburn. The new drops block 98% of UV light for up to four hours. That’s important, because the cumulative effect of a lifetime of sun exposure may contribute to the formation of cataracts that cloud the eye’s lens and impair vision.
Diseases or infections of the eye may require prescription eye drops. Non-prescription eye drops are intended only to relieve minor symptoms such as stinging, itching, or eye strain. But minor symptoms may signal the onset of a serious problem. Consult a doctor if you experience matted eyes in the morning, burning, extreme itching, extreme redness, painful reaction to light, blurred vision, or discomfort from contact lenses where there was no prior problem.
Relief… By a Nose
Like eye drops, nose drops and nasal sprays are available for a variety of uses. The simplest is a saline (salt water) solution used to rinse irritants from the lining of the nose. Dryness also can irritate the nose, and saline drops or sprays may offer relief.
Nasal decongestants are vaso-constrictors that work the same way the “get-the-red-out” eye drops work. They shrink dilated blood vessels that are pumping a lot of blood through the lining of the nose, causing the lining to swell and making the person’s nose feel stuffy. Used as directed, these decongestants relieve a stuffy nose. However, as with eye drops, rebound congestion occurs with overuse. The nose feels more stuffy, and the person feels the need for more nasal spray. Read label directions, and don’t exceed recommended dosage or length of treatment.
Some nose drops and sprays are used to effectively administer certain types of medication. Some medicines are prescribed to be taken this way because of the absorptive nature of the lining of the nose. Two of these medicines are prednisone steroids and hormones.
Prednisone is a kind of steroid used to help control severe, persistent nasal congestion from allergies. If taken orally, this drug can cause side effects. By taking the medicine through the nose, the patient can avoid these side effects.
Another kind of drug commonly administered by way of the nose is a hormone used to treat diabetes insipidus, an illness characterized by an imbalance of fluids, rather than blood sugar. In this disease, the pituitary gland does not make enough of an important hormone. If the patient tried to take a replacement hormone orally, the stomach juices would digest it, and it would lose its effectiveness. Administering the medicine through the nose bypasses the digestive system.
When you use eye drops, be sure to observe expiration dates. All eye products should be used or thrown away within three months of being opened. Before use, examine the drops for cloudiness, discoloration, or foreign particles. If any of these conditions are present, replace the eye drops. Another caution: If you are already using a prescription eye drop, ask your doctor or pharmacist before also using a non-prescription solution.
Over-the-counter nasal products should be used by only one person. Don’t share containers or applicators. For symptomatic relief of colds or allergies, use no longer than three or four days to minimize problems with rebound congestion. Consult your doctor if symptoms last longer than that. There may be other treatments available.
How to Use Drops and Sprays
Eye drops: Wash your hands, and check the expiration date and solution before using. Lift your chin and look at the ceiling. Raise the container or eyedropper about three or four inches above the eye. Use your left hand to hold your right eyelid open; use your right hand to hold your left eyelid open. Look at the end of the bottle or eyedropper and squeeze gently until one or two drops release into the eye.
Nose drops: Lie on your back on a bed and hang your head over the edge with chin tilted up. Release two or three drops into each nostril.
Nasal spray: Gently blow your nose clear before applying. Tilt head back and close opposite nostril with a finger. Inhale as you spray the mist into the nose.
Preventing Eye Irritation
You can avoid the need for eye drops for minor symptoms if you follow these tips:
* Close your eyes when using spray deodorant, air freshener, or perfume.
* Don’t touch, rub, or scratch your eyes.
* Wear sunglasses that provide UV protection. This information is usually on the label.
* Never use anyone else’s eye makeup or eye makeup applicator.
* Use oil-free eye makeup remover.
* If you wear contact lenses, use makeup labeled safe for use with them.
* Don’t use saliva to moisten eye makeup applicators, to remove smudges, or to clean contact lenses.