Allergies The Eyes Have It! Allergic Conjunctivitis, That Is

Find out what’s causing your itchy eyes and how to get relief.

Man rubbing his eyesEye 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.

Like all allergies, allergic conjunctivitis starts when the immune system identifies an otherwise harmless substance as an allergen. This causes your immune system to overreact and produce antibodies called Immunoglobulin, or IgE. These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals which cause an allergic reaction. In this case, allergic reactions include eyes that water, itch, hurt, or become red or swollen.

What causes eye allergy? The most common causes of allergic conjunctivitis are seasonal allergens, such as pollen and mold spores. People with seasonal allergic rhinitis (also called 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 like pink eye, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. However, red, itchy, burning, and puffy eyes can be caused by in-fections and other conditions that can threaten eyesight. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis if you’re experiencing eye allergy symptoms.
Eye allergy symptoms can be very annoying. Yet they pose little threat to eyesight other than temporary blurriness.What are the symptoms of eye allergy? If your symptoms are related to an eye allergy, chances are you will have problems in both eyes. Typical eye allergy symptoms include
• Watery eyes
• Itchiness
• Sensitivity to light
• Redness
• Grittiness
• 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 if your symptoms are due to indoor allergens, such as dust mites or pet dander. Symptoms may be reduced if you are taking allergy medications, such as antihistamines, which suppress the allergic reaction.

The first step toward relief from annoying eye allergy symptoms is a proper diagnosis. An allergist or immunologist has specialized training and experience to accurately determine what is causing your symptoms and identify the best treatment approach.

How do I get relief from my eye allergy symptoms?  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, here are a few helpful suggestions:
• Wear a hat with a wide brim to reduce the amount of allergen that blows into your eyes.
• Sunglasses can also help reduce the amount of allergen that lands in the eyes.
• Apply saline eye drops to the eyes after being outdoors to wash away allergens from the ocular lining.

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 (or allergy shots) can be very effective in providing long-term resistance to the triggering allergens.

To find an allergist/immunologist in your area, try the AAAAI’s Find an Allergist/Immunologist service – The service is an online searchable database that helps allergy fighters locate specialists close to home. 

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2016.