The Eyes Have It!
Allergic Conjunctivitis, That Is
Eye allergy, also called allergic conjunctivitis or ocular allergy, occurs when something you are allergic to irritates the conjunctiva. This is the delicate membrane covering the eye and the inside of the eyelid.
The most common causes of allergic conjunctivitis are seasonal allergens, such as pollen and mold spores. People with seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, normally notice their symptoms worsen when they go outdoors on days with high pollen counts. Indoor allergens, such as dust mites and pet dander, can also cause eye allergies year-round. If you have this type of allergy, you may notice your symptoms worsen during certain activities, such as cleaning your house or grooming a pet.
Eye allergy symptoms can be very annoying. Yet they pose little threat to eyesight other than temporary blurriness. Unlike conditions such as pink eye, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. However, red, itchy, burning, and puffy eyes can also be caused by infections and other conditions that can threaten eyesight.
Eye Allergy Symptoms & Diagnosis
If your symptoms are related to an eye allergy, chances are you will have problems in both eyes. Typical symptoms include watery eyes, itchiness, sensitivity to light, redness, grittiness, and eyelid swelling. These symptoms can occur alone or along with allergic rhinitis nasal symptoms. They typically appear shortly after exposure to the allergen. Symptoms resulting from seasonal outdoor allergens tend to be worse than symptoms due to indoor allergens. Symptoms may be reduced if you are taking allergy medications such as antihistamines, which suppress the allergic reaction.
Unlike conditions such as pink eye, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.
The first step toward relief from annoying eye allergy symptoms is a proper diagnosis. An allergist has specialized training and experience to accurately determine what is causing your symptoms and identify the best treatment approach.
Eye Allergy Treatment & Management
If indoor allergens are causing your eye allergy symptoms, avoidance is the key to relief. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to reduce dust in your home or try keeping pets out of the bedroom to reduce exposure to their dander.
If pollen and other seasonal allergens are causing your symptoms, medications or other treatments may be necessary to provide relief. Over-the-counter antihistamine pills and eye drops are often used for short-term treatment of eye allergy symptoms. However, prolonged use of some eye drops may actually make your symptoms worse. Your doctor may prescribe stronger medications if your symptoms are long lasting.
Corticosteroid eye drops are effective, but they often have side effects, even when used only for a short time. Use of this medication should be managed by an ophthalmologist due to the risk of side effects, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and infection.
Depending on what is causing your eye allergy symptoms, immunotherapy (allergy shots) can be very effective in providing long-term resistance to the triggering allergens.
Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.aaaai.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2011.