Allergic conjunctivitis or “Eye Allergy”
Eye allergy occurs when the delicate lining of the eye, or conjunctiva, becomes irritated by an allergen. Symptoms of eye allergy can include itching, redness, burning, clear watery discharge, and swelling. While eye allergy is not contagious, it can be confused with a viral or bacterial infection of the eye such as pinkeye. Eye allergy can occur alone but are usually accompanied by the symptoms of hay fever which are nasal drainage, congestion and sneezing.
Eye Allergy Symptoms:
- Outdoor allergens, such as pollens from grass, trees and weeds. If you have this type of allergy, you may notice symptoms are worse during certain times of the year such as spring and fall when the pollen load is especially heavy.
- Indoor allergens, such as pet dander, dust mites and mold.
- Irritants, such as cigarette smoke, perfume and diesel exhaust
- Cosmetics or personal hygiene products.
Eye Allergy Management and Treatment:
- Avoid triggers by “environmental controls” – that is, eliminating sources of allergy from your home and life.
- Keep windows closed during high pollen periods; use air conditioning in your home and car.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes.
- Shower and change clothes after spending a significant amount of time outdoors.
- Use allergy covers to limit exposure to dust mites, and a dehumidifier to control mold. Treat any mold infested areas of your home.
- If you are allergic to pet dander, consider removing the pet from the home or at least keeping the pet out of the bedroom. HEPA filters and thorough cleaning of the home may help with cat dander.
Medications for eye allergy:
- Artificial tears – these lubricate the eyes if dryness if a problem.
- Decongestant eye drops (don’t use eye drops for “red eye” longer than a week, or they can make things worse).
- Oral antihistamines (note that they may dry your eyes and make your symptoms worse).
An allergist can prescribe additional medications which are very effective against eye allergy:
- Allergy eye drops: there are many different kinds of eye drops (decongestant, antihistamine, mast cell stabilizer, corticosteroid, NSAID), that may be more effective in different patients.
- Nasal steroids: treatment with nasal steroids which calm down inflammation has been shown to help with some cases of eye allergy.
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy) – allergy shots decrease your sensitivity to allergens over time and is a good long term treatment for eye or nasal allergies.