Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an inflammatory condition that occurs when your eyes experience an allergic reaction to mould spores, pollen, or other allergens. Your eyeballs and the insides of your eyelids are covered by a membrane known as conjunctiva, which can easily become irritated by these allergens, especially during times when hay fever is prevalent.

Allergic conjunctivitis generally causes your eyes to become red and irritated as well as itchy and watery. This condition is fairly common and is experienced by about 20% of the population. Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when your body reacts to potentially harmful substances.

Signs and Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis

There are a number of signs and symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, including:

  • A burning or itching sensation of the eye and the tissue surrounding the eye.
  • Redness of both eyes.
  • Watery discharge from the eyes which may be accompanied by pain or discomfort when exposed to bright sunlight (photophobia).
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva, which may appear to be a light shade of purple and can interfere with vision clarity.
  • If the eyelids are affected, they may become swollen and droopy. If swelling is severe, the gap between the lids may become slit-like, or the eye may become swollen shut.
  • If vision is blurred or corneal haze is experienced, seek assistance from an eye care specialist immediately.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis can occur perennially (any time of the year) if the cause is due to reactions to animal dander, food/food additives, indoor or outdoor spores, or dust mites.

They often occur seasonally if the causes are reactions to airborne allergens such as pollen from weeds, trees or grass. Symptoms caused by reactions to pollen vary from one day to the next based on weather. They tend to be less bothersome on wet days and worse when it’s hot and windy or after a thunderstorm. Airborne mould spores can also cause symptoms that are seasonal.

Causes of Allergic Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis can be caused by a number of things, such as viruses, bacteria, or allergens. When it is an allergen that causes conjunctivitis, it is referred to as allergic conjunctivitis, which is not contagious.

Common allergens that cause conjunctivitis include:

  • Skin and secretions (such as saliva) from animals
  • Pollen from ragweed, grass and trees
  • Cosmetics
  • Perfumes
  • Smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Skin medications

Treatment for Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis can be successfully treated with medications, or by removing the allergen causing such reactions. Medications that may be suggested by your doctors include:

  • Ocular decongestants (topical) work by constricting small blood vessels of the eye thus reducing redness. These should only be used for a few days as extended use can worsen your symptoms.
  • Ocular antihistamines (topical) work by blocking the chemical that causes allergic reactions, known as histamine, thus reducing itching, swelling and redness. These medications may be prescribed or over-the-counter.
  • Ocular steroids (topical) in the form of eye drops may be prescribed if the other medications don’t work. Your doctor will need to keep a close watch during treatment with steroids as they can increase the pressure of your eye, causing damage to your vision. It is also important for your doctor to rule out viral eye infections, such as herpes, before prescribing steroids. Steroids may also increase your risk of developing cataracts, which are clouding of the eye lens that can lead to vision impairment.
  • Ocular mast cell stabilizers (topical) help to relieve the symptoms by stopping the release of histamine. These are most effective when started before you develop symptoms of conjunctivitis.Systemic (oral) versions of these medications can be used for severe occurrences.
  • Immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots or oral tablets can be effective for treating allergic conjunctivitis.

Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis can also be relieved by:

  • Placing cold compresses over the eyes.
  • Removing contact lenses.
  • Over-the-counter Artificial Tears eye drops. These can help relieve symptoms of burning and itching. Other eye drops should not be used as they may cause irritation.

Note: To avoid conjunctivitis caused by allergens, stay away from substances that may cause a reaction. You can also see an allergy specialist to help determine what triggers may be causing your symptoms.

Things to Look Out For

When dealing with allergic conjunctivitis, there are some things you should pay attention to:

  • Do not wear eye makeup.
  • Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes.
  • Don't wear contact lenses until you are symptom-free.
  • Wash your hands often, especially before applying ointment or eye drops to your eyes.
  • Wash your bed sheets, pillowcases and towels in hot water to minimize allergens.
  • Do not share your makeup with anyone.
  • Never wear anyone else’s contact lenses.
  • Avoid using eye drops for an eye that is free of symptoms after using it on an affected eye.

You may watch a video to learn more about allergic conjunctivitis: 

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