Spring is in the air and that means warmer weather, sunny days, blooming flowers and seasonal allergies with symptoms like sneezing, congestion and itchy, irritated eyes.

About 50 million Americans have allergies, with 24 million of them suffering from hay fever — the allergic reaction to pollen — every year, said Dr. Joseph Calderone, of Better Vision New Jersey in Cranford.

Calderone said eye irritation from pollen can lead to temporarily blurred vision, redness and tearing. Avoid rubbing eyes no matter how itchy they are because rubbing can worsen inflammation, he said.

To prevent seasonal allergies, Calderone suggested staying inside when the pollen count is high. But if a person must go outside, he recommended grabbing some sunglasses with large wrap-around lenses, which will help reduce the direct contact with pollen on the surface of the eyes.

Change HVAC filters at the end of winter and before running the air conditioning for the first time. Keep windows closed during allergy season and spring clean the home, said Calderone. Make sure to clean the bedding and upholstered furniture regularly to get rid of dust mites and other allergens.

It's also very important to wash hands and face on a regular basis especially the area around the eyes to reduce the concentration of allergens on the skin and lashes.

If a person does all of the above but eyes remain red, itchy and watery, Calderone said to get a second-generation antihistamine eye drop, which are available over the counter. But try to avoid using an older type of eye drops that claim to reduce redness. He said all they do is restrict blood vessels.

Try switching out contact lenses for glasses or daily wear contacts, added Calderone. Visit an ophthalmologist who can prescribe stronger antihistamines or diagnose other diseases that make a person's allergic conjunctivitis worse.

"If you have a history of spring allergies, now is the time to prepare to do battle with all that pollen. Good luck and happy spring," said Calderone.

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