Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Allergic conjunctivitis presents like bacterial conjunctivitis or pink eye, but the causes and treatments are different. Allergic conjunctivitis usually happens when the eyes come into contact with an allergen, a substance that makes the body’s immune system overreact. The immune system kicks into high gear, producing an inflammatory response in the eyes, and tears to flush out any foreign object. The eye becomes sore and inflamed, and the body releases histamine. The blood vessels dilate, irritating the nerve endings.

Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis

Seasonal allergies and hay fever can produce itchy, watery red eyes, especially when the pollen count is high. The eyelids may become swollen and painful. With this type of allergic conjunctivitis, it’s especially important to refrain from rubbing your eyes, as any trace of pollen on your fingers can spread further into your eyes and cause more irritation. If conjunctivitis results from pollen, there will likely be other common seasonal allergy symptoms such as sneezing, an itchy, blocked, or a runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes.

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Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Treatment of Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis

Treatment of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is fairly straightforward. Stay indoors as much as possible, wear a face mask if needed, and make sure to change the filter in your home’s air conditioner. You may also find relief from the symptoms of conjunctivitis by using artificial tears or allergy eye drops. Some people can take over-the-counter anti-histamines to prevent the symptoms. A cold compress to the eyes may also bring relief from swelling and itching.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Contact Conjunctivitis

Many health experts advise against sharing eye makeup, eyedrops, or contact solution. There are many reasons why, and contact conjunctivitis is one of them. The medical term is contact dermato-conjunctivitis, and symptoms are usually caused by cosmetics, eye-drops, or other chemicals that irritate the outer part of the eye. Contact with these substances leads to an allergic response in one or both eyes. Some people are sensitive to specific substances – if you suspect you might be, read the labels carefully and consult your dermatologist. Symptoms usually develop two to four days after the substance comes into contact with the eyes.

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Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Treatments for Contact Conjunctivitis

The first step to treating contact conjunctivitis is to stop using your usual eye products to eliminate the ingredients to which your eyes are sensitive. If you experience painful red eyes, sensitivity to light, or adversely affected vision, see a doctor. Treatments can include artificial tears and flushing the eyes with warm water. Antihistamines may also bring relief.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis

This particular type of allergic conjunctivitis often come from contact lenses, which can cause increasing discomfort in the eye. Redness, irritation, and some swelling can occur as a result. Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) may also occur when a person uses hard contact lenses after eye surgery. Your ophthalmologist may recommend switching to soft contacts or glasses until the eyes are better healed or the condition is alleviated. Poor hygiene when handling contact lenses, cleaners, and cases may contribute to GPC and other infections.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Treatment for Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis

Treating GPV may require stopping contact use altogether. To alleviate the symptoms, try artificial tears or flush the eyes with warm water. When contact lenses are the culprit, your ophthalmologist may recommend an ointment, especially if you’ve recently had eye surgery. To reduce redness and swelling, an over-the-counter antihistamine may bring relief.

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Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Perennial Conjunctivitis

Perennial conjunctivitis refers to an allergic state that lasts all year. It mainly results from an allergy to house dust mites, although there are other causes. Dust mites are microscopic insect-like creatures that live mainly in bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpets. These tiny creatures eat skin cells shed by people and love warm, humid environments. Dust mite allergy is an immune-system response to a protein unique to the dust mites. This creates a range of symptoms, including conjunctivitis, a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, and contraction of the airways. Other perennial conjunctivitis triggers include animal dander, small scales from animal skin, hair, and bird feathers.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Treatment for Perennial Conjunctivitis

The treatment for perennial conjunctivitis is similar to seasonal conjunctivitis. However, those that experience year-round allergic reactions to certain triggers don’t have the seasonal respite. Antihistamine medication, cold compresses, and allergy eye drops with anti-inflammatory properties work well for perennial conjunctivitis. Some people have found relief after identifying environmental triggers through an allergen panel, while others require allergy shots to combats these triggers.

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Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Diagnosing Allergic Conjunctivitis

A doctor will diagnose allergic conjunctivitis by examining the patient and asking about signs and symptoms, including sneezing and a runny nose. They may also need to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Your primary physician may ask that you keep a log of the environments you are in or products you are using when your conjunctivitis symptoms appear. This can determine which type of conjunctivitis afflicts you, better treat the symptoms, and avoid future flare-ups.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Complications of Allergic Conjunctivitis

While complications of perennial or seasonal allergic conjunctivitis are rare, the condition can affect the quality of life and enjoyment of everyday activities. Complications may occur with dermato-conjunctivitis and giant papillary conjunctivitis. In these cases, the cornea may become inflamed. Known as keratitis, this side effect can cause ulcers to form on the cornea, increasing the chances of scarring and the possibility of permanent vision loss. If your physician determines you have one of these eye irritations, follow their recommendations completely to avoid complications.

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Allergic Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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