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Allergic Conjunctivitis


What is Allergic Conjunctivitis?

Allergic conjunctivitis is an allergic reaction on the surface of the eyes. This is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the membrane covering the white of the eyes and inner lids) due to an allergy. Common allergens are pollen, dust, pet dander, smoke, mold, and air pollution. There are over 22 million people in the United States that suffer from allergy eyes. These allergies may be seasonal, in the spring and fall when pollen counts are at their highest, or may be year round.

How does it occur?

The allergens may be in the air, such as smoke or plant pollen, or they might be on your hands and cause irritation when you touch your eyes.

When your eyes are repeatedly exposed to allergens, the body reacts and produces antibodies. When allergens in the air contact antibodies on the eye, an allergic reaction begins. The eye releases chemicals, including histamine, which cause the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may include:

  • itchy eyes

  • watering eyes

  • red eyes

  • eyelid swelling

Sometimes skin around the eyes can become red and scaly. Many people have more severe symptoms during certain seasons, particularly the spring or fall.

Both eyes are usually affected unless only one eye came into contact with the allergen, as might occur when coming into contact with poison ivy.

How is it diagnosed?

Our doctors will ask about your symptoms and perform a detailed eye examination. Your family medical history may also be helpful.

How is it treated?

The first choice for treatment is to avoid the allergy-causing substance(s).

Cool compresses (cool moist washcloths) on your closed eyelids several times a day may help relieve the symptoms. Artificial tear drops may soothe the eyes and wash away allergy-causing particles from the surface of the eye.

Some people require antihistamine or anti-inflammatory pills, especially if they have other allergy symptoms. If you have only eye symptoms, eye drops alone may relieve your symptoms. Antihistamine and anti-inflammatory eye drops can both be used, some of them prescription strength. Some drops may need to be used daily to be effective, while others can be used only as needed.

If your symptoms are severe, you may need to see an allergist and have tests to see what you are allergic to. Then you may be able to get specific treatment, such as allergy shots, for the things that cause your allergy symptoms.

How long will the effects last?

The symptoms may persist as long as the allergen is around, whether it’s spring pollen or cat dander in a carpet. If you started having allergic reactions when you were a child and continue to have them as an adult, you may have them the rest of your life. However, it is possible to develop an allergy, including allergic conjunctivitis, at any time in life.

Sometimes a bacterial eye infection develops in addition to the allergic conjunctivitis. This may occur because bacteria got into your eyes when you scratched or rubbed them.

How can you prevent allergic conjunctivitis?

Often there is no way to prevent allergic conjunctivitis. You can try to lessen your symptoms by limiting your exposure to allergens. For example, avoid going outside when pollen counts are highest or when the wind is blowing allergens through the air. Use air conditioning rather than opening windows. Talk to our doctors about other ways you can help prevent this problem.

In-Office Eye Allergen Testing:

If you recently had allergy testing with our office and would like to learn more about the specific allergens that were tested for, please click on the following PDF file. Remember to have your test results page handy so that you can cross reference your highest allergen.

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