We often hear that “making eye contact is good!” What if you possess red, blotchy eyes that instantly make people want to look away?!
Allergic Conjunctivitis is a common allergy. It can be caused from something irritating the eye (called an “allergen”). The eye fights back and certain cells within the eye (called “Mast Cells”) produce a substance called “histamine” to counter-act the allergen.
The result is your eyes will become red, itchy and swollen. This happens because the eyelids and conjunctiva (the thin tissue that is found on the inside of your eyelids and the white part of your eye – termed “sclera”) suffer tearing and a burning sensation.
The good news is that Allergic Conjunctivitis is not spread to person to person. This is not the case with the other forms of Conjunctivitis – “Bacterial Conjunctivitis” and “Viral Conjunctivitis”.
The common symptoms that accompany Allergic Conjunctivitis are usually an itchy, blocked nose and sneezing. The condition is usually “Acute” – which means it is temporary in nature and viewed as a seasonal allergy. Some common allergens like pollen from grass, trees and ragweed can cause the condition.
Other causes can be pet hair, dust, smoke, perfume and even foods. Insect bites and stings can cause the reaction. Some people may also be allergic to eyedrops. A good tip is to use the preservative free kind.
If the exposure is prolonged the allergies could become more severe. This could result in significant burning, itching and sensitivity to light.
Eye allergies can also be hereditary too.
How do you know if it’s Allergic Conjunctivitis? Well, your Ophthalmologist will examine your eyes and check your medical history – particularly your family’s history of allergies. They can then determine if it is an eye infection or allergic conjunctivitis.
In examining your eyes they will check for signs of eye allergies and blood vessels on the surface of the eye. In cases of severe allergies or inconclusive results your eye M.D may choose to test for specific types of white blood cells (called “eosinophils”). The test is performed by gently scraping a tiny area of the conjunctiva and testing for eosinophils.
If the substance causing the reaction is not known an allergist can perform a skin or blood test to identify the specific allergens.
If it turns out to be pollen avoid going out when the pollen count is highest. Wearing sunglasses or eyeglasses when outdoors stops pollen from getting in your eyes. Closing house and car windows is a good idea too.
If mold is an allergy trigger you need to be aware that high humidity helps mold grow. Aim to keep the humidity in your home between 30 – 50 percent. Keep high-humidity places clean and consider using a dehumidifier.
If dust is a trigger allergen then try to limit exposure to dust mites – especially in the bedroom. You can buy allergy reducing bedding for your covers. Clean your bedding regularly with hot water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
If it is pets which you are allergic to always wash your hands after touching a pet. Remember to keep them out of the bedroom and consider hardwood or tiled floors instead of carpets.
Some eyedrops and medicine can help.
“Artificial Tear Drops” are available without prescription. They work by washing the allergies from the eye.
Another “over the counter” remedy is Decongestant eyedrops. You can purchase them with histamine in which will reduce the itchiness. Do not use for more than 2 – 3 days. Long term use actually makes the symptoms worse!
Steroid Eyedrops (Corticosteroids) are also an effective treatment for the relief of symptoms.
Immunotherapy shots may be a last option for relieving eye allergies. This involves tiny amounts of the allergen being given gradually over time so your body can become immune to the allergy.
As always – your doctor is the best guide to determine the course of treatment that is best for you.