What is allergic conjunctivitis?
Allergic conjunctivitis is an allergic reaction on the surface of the eyes.
It is a very common condition that occurs when your eyes come in contact with allergy-causing substances (allergens).
How does it occur?
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 one called histamine. These chemicals cause the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.
What causes conjunctivitis?
Infection is the most common cause. Many bacteria and viruses can cause conjunctivitis.
Allergy is another common cause.
Irritant conjunctivitis sometimes occurs. For example, your conjunctiva may become red and inflamed after getting some shampoo in your eyes.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are eyes that are:
- Sometimes swollen.
- Both eyes are usually affected
What causes allergic conjunctivitis?
Seasonal conjunctivitis due to pollens and moulds
- Seasonal conjunctivitis is when the symptoms occur at the same time each year. Most cases are due to pollen and occur in the hay fever season. Symptoms tend to last a few weeks each year.
- This is a conjunctivitis that persists throughout the year. This is commonly due to an allergy to house dust mite. House dust mite is a tiny insect-like creature that lives in every home. It mainly lives in bedrooms and mattresses, as part of the dust.
Allergies to animals
- Coming into contact with some animals can cause a bout of allergic conjunctivitis.
Giant papillary conjunctivitis
- This is uncommon. It is inflammation of the conjunctiva lining the upper eyelid. It occurs in some people who have a ‘foreign body’ on the eye – most commonly a contact lens. It affects about 1 in 100 contact lens wearers.
- Some people become sensitized to cosmetics, make-up, eye drops or other chemicals that come into contact with the conjunctiva. This then causes an allergic response and symptoms of conjunctivitis. In this condition the skin on the eyelids may also become inflamed.
How is it diagnosed?
Your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and check your eyes.
Your provider may test you for reactions to specific allergens if you have a severe case of conjunctivitis that does not respond to the usual treatment.
How is it treated?
The first choice for treatment is to avoid the allergy-causing substance(s).
Some people need to take antihistamine tablets, especially if they have other allergy symptoms. If you have only eye symptoms, eye drops may be the only medication you need.
Some relatively new types of eye allergy drops can be quite effective: one is an anti-inflammatory medication, one is an antihistamine, and one is a combination of the two.
You can put cool compresses on your eyes several times a day to help relieve the symptoms.
How long will the effects last?
The symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis will last as long as the allergen is around, whether it’s spring pollen or cat dander in a carpet.
Sometimes an eye infection (bacterial conjunctivitis) develops in addition to the allergic conjunctivitis. This may happen because bacteria got into your eyes when you scratched or rubbed them.
How can I help prevent allergic conjunctivitis?
If your symptoms are severe, you may need to see an allergist and have tests to see what you are allergic to. You may then need to have allergy shots.
What should I look out for?
See a doctor urgently if any of the following occur:
- Symptoms change (for example, light starts to hurt your eyes).
- If you have pain in the eye.
- Spots or blisters develop on the skin next to the eye.
- Your vision is reduced.
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