Allergic Conjunctivitis

Written by Chitra Badii
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Allergic Conjunctivitis?

When your eyes are exposed to substances like pollen or mold spores, they may become red, itchy, and watery. These symptoms mean you have allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis refers to eye inflammation resulting from an allergic reaction to substances like pollen or mold spores.

The inside of your eyelids and the covering of your eyeball have a membrane called the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is susceptible to irritation from allergens, especially during hay fever season. Allergic conjunctivitus is quite common and affects about one-fifth of the population. It is your body’s reaction to substances it considers potentially harmful.

What Are the Types of Allergic Conjunctivitis?

Allergic conjunctivitis comes in two main types:

Acute Allergic Conjunctivitis

This is a short-term condition that is more common during allergy season. Your eyelids suddenly swell, itch, and burn. You may also have a watery nose.

Chronic Allergic Conjunctivitis

A less common condition called chronic allergic conjunctivitis can occur year-round. It is a response to allergens like food, dust, and animal dander. Burning and itching of the eyes and light sensitivity are common symptoms.

What Causes Allergic Conjunctivitis?

You experience allergic conjunctivitis when your body tries to defend itself against a perceived threat. It does this in reaction to substances that trigger the release of histamine, a potent chemical your body produces to fight off foreign invaders. Some of the substances that cause this reaction are:

  • household dust
  • pollen from trees and grass
  • mold spores
  • animal dander
  • chemical scents (e.g., household detergents or perfume)

Some people may also experience allergic conjunctivitis in reaction to certain medications or substances dropped into the eyes, such as contact lens solution or medicated eye drops.

Who Is at Risk for Allergic Conjunctivitis?

People who have allergies are more likely to develop allergic conjunctivitis. Allergies affect 10 to 20 percent of the population. They often run in families.

Allergies affect people of all ages, though they are more common in children and young adults. If you have allergies and live in locations with high pollen counts, you are more susceptible to allergic conjunctivitis.

What Are the Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis?

Red, itchy, watery, and burning eyes are common symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. You may also wake up in the morning with puffy eyes.

How Is Allergic Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine your eyes and review your allergy history. Redness in the white of the eye and small bumps inside your eyelids are visible signs of conjunctivitis. Your doctor may also order one of the following tests:

  • An allergy skin test exposes your skin to specific allergens and allows your doctor to examine your body’s reaction, which may include swelling and redness.
  • A blood test may be recommended to see if your body is producing proteins (antibodies) to protect itself against specific allergens like mold or dust.
  • A scraping of your conjunctival tissue may be taken to examine your white blood cells. Eosinophils are white blood cells that become activated when you have allergies.

How Is Allergic Conjunctivitis Treated?

Home Care

Treating allergic conjunctivitis at home involves a combination of prevention strategies and activities to ease your symptoms. To minimize your exposure to allergens:

  • close windows when the pollen count is high
  • keep your home dust-free
  • use an indoor air purifier
  • avoid exposure to harsh chemicals, dyes, and perfumes

To ease your symptoms, avoid rubbing your eyes. Applying a cool compress to your eyes can also help reduce inflammation and itching.

Medications

In more troublesome cases, home care may not be adequate. You will need to see a doctor who might recommend:

  • an oral or over-the-counter antihistamine to reduce or block histamine release
  • anti-inflammatory and/or anti-inflammation eye drops
  • eye drops to shrink congested blood vessels
  • steroid eye drops (only in severe cases)

What Is The Long-Term Outlook?

With proper treatment, you can experience relief or at least reduce your symptoms. Recurring exposure to allergens, however, will likely trigger the same symptoms in the future.

How Do I Prevent Allergic Conjuctivitis?

Completely avoiding the environmental factors that cause allergic conjunctivitis can be difficult. The best thing you can do is to limit your exposure to these triggers. For example, if you know that you are allergic to perfume or household dust, you can try to minimize your exposure by using scent-free soaps and detergents, or by installing an air purifier in the home.

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Thank you.

Your message has been sent.

We're sorry, an error occurred.

We are unable to collect your feedback at this time. However, your feedback is important to us. Please try again later.

Article Sources:

More on Healthline

The Best Multiple Sclerosis iPhone and Android Apps of the Year
The Best Multiple Sclerosis iPhone and Android Apps of the Year
These best multiple sclerosis apps provide helpful information and tools to keep track of your symptoms, including medication reminders.
Migraine vs. Chronic Migraine: What Are the Differences?
Migraine vs. Chronic Migraine: What Are the Differences?
There is not just one type of migraine. Chronic migraine is one subtype of migraine. Understand what sets these two conditions apart.
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
From first exposure to life-threatening complications, learn how quickly an allergy attack can escalate and why it can become life threatening.
Numbness, Muscle Pain and Other RA Symptoms
Numbness, Muscle Pain and Other RA Symptoms
The symptoms of RA are more than just joint pain and stiffness. Common symptoms include loss of feeling, muscle pain, and more. Learn more in this slideshow.
Common Asthma Triggers and How to Avoid Them
Common Asthma Triggers and How to Avoid Them
Learn about some of the most common triggers for asthma, as well as measures you can take to minimize your risk of exposure, symptoms, and flares.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement