What is allergic conjunctivitis?
A clear, thin membrane called the conjunctiva covers your eyeball and the inside of your eyelids. If something irritates this covering, your eyes may become red and swollen. Your eyes also may itch, hurt or water. This is called conjunctivitis. It is also known as “pink eye.”
When an allergen causes the irritation, the condition is called allergic conjunctivitis. This type of conjunctivitis is not contagious.
What causes allergic conjunctivitis?
The most common type of ocular allergies are seasonal and perennial (year round) allergic conjunctivitis. Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (hay fever conjunctivitis), is the more common type accounting for the majority of allergic conjunctivitis cases. As its name suggests, it is related to specific pollens that spore during specific seasons.
Symptoms generally include red, itchy, and watery eyes. People affected by hay fever and other seasonal allergies also experience symptoms involving the nose and throat.
Perennial allergic conjunctivitis is a year-round allergic condition. These allergic responses are often related to animal dander, dust, or other allergens that are present in the environment year round. Symptoms are similar to seasonal allergic conjunctivitis: however, they tend to be milder.
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis generally occurs in the spring months (grass pollen induced), and in the late summer months (ragweed pollen induced). Itching is a dominant symptom in seasonal allergic conjunctivitis diagnosis, as well as watery/mucus discharge, burning, and redness.
What Are the Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis?
How is allergic conjunctivitis treated?
Allergy-associated conjunctivitis may disappear completely, either when the allergy is treated with antihistamines, or when the allergen is removed. Your doctor may recommend you use one or more of the following:
Ocular Lubricants: These are the first line of eye drops used for treatment of this problem. They keep the eyes moist and the drops wash out the allergens.
Ocular (topical) decongestants: These medicines reduce redness by constricting small blood vessels in the eye. They are not recommended for long-term use. Using these drops for more than a few days can actually worsen symptoms.
Ocular (topical) antihistamines: These medicines reduce redness, swelling and itching by blocking the actions of histamine, the chemical that causes these symptoms of allergy. They are available both over-the-counter and by prescription.
Ocular (topical) steroids: When other medicines fail, your doctor may prescribe steroid eye drops to relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis. These must be used with the supervision of your doctor since they can cause elevated pressure inside of the eye, which can lead to vision damage. Your doctor also must check for viral eye infections, such as herpes, before optical steroids are used. These drops can also increase the risk of cataracts, clouding of the lens of the eye that can impair vision.
Cromolyn: This medicine works by preventing specialized cells from releasing histamine. It works best when started before symptoms occur.
Do these treatments have side effects?
Many eye drops can cause burning and stinging when you first put them in, but this usually goes away in a few minutes. It is important to remember that all medicines may potentially cause side effects, so talk with your doctor before using any medicine, including eye drops.
What else can I do to feel better?
What can I do to avoid getting conjunctivitis?
Try to identify and avoid the allergens that cause your symptoms. For example, if you are allergic to pollen or mold, stay indoors when pollen and mold levels are high. Keep your doors and windows closed, and use an air conditioner during the summer months.
Will allergic conjunctivitis damage my eyesight?
No. Allergic conjunctivitis is irritating and uncomfortable, but it will not hurt your eyesight usually. However, when it becomes severe there could be a reduction in your eyesight.
Can I wear my contact lenses?
It’s not a good idea to wear contacts while you have allergic conjunctivitis because you might get an eye infection. Instead, wear your glasses until your eyes feel better.
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