Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the tissue that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eye. It can cause redness, itching, and watery eyes. You may also see it referred to as pink eye.

Sometimes conjunctivitis can happen in response to an allergen such as pollen or pet dander. This is called allergic conjunctivitis or eye allergy.

You may have heard that some types of conjunctivitis are contagious. But what about allergic conjunctivitis? Read on as we answer this question and more below.

Allergic conjunctivitis isn’t contagious, meaning that it can’t be spread from person to person. This is because it’s caused by your body’s reaction to an allergen instead of an infectious organism such as bacteria or a virus.

Allergic conjunctivitis is estimated to affect 10 to 30 percent of people. It often occurs in people that have other allergic conditions, such as allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, eczema, and asthma.

Allergic conjunctivitis can occur in response to a variety of allergens. These can include:

When an allergen comes into contact with your eye, your body produces a specific type of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). This activates certain immune cells to produce inflammatory molecules such as histamine, which leads to symptoms.

The symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis typically affect both eyes and can include:

Allergic conjunctivitis can happen year-round or it can be seasonal. This depends on the allergen that causes your symptoms. For example, many types of pollen occur seasonally while dust mites and pet dander can be present year-round.

Bacteria and viruses can also cause conjunctivitis. Unlike allergic conjunctivitis, these types of conjunctivitis are very contagious. Viral conjunctivitis is more common than bacterial conjunctivitis.

Microbes can be present in tears, eye discharge, and respiratory secretions. They can be spread to others through touching a contaminated object or surface and then touching the eyes.

What’s causing conjunctivitis can also affect the type of treatment that’s used. Overall, cool compresses and artificial tears may help to ease your symptoms, regardless of the cause.

Several medications can be helpful for the treatment of allergic conjunctivitis. Many are available over-the-counter (OTC) while others require a prescription. They often come in the form of eye drops and can include things like:

  • antihistamines
  • mast cell stabilizers
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • short duration corticosteroids

Antibiotics don’t work on viral infections, so viral conjunctivitis must be allowed to run its course. Antibiotic eye drops are sometimes prescribed for people with bacterial conjunctivitis.

There are several steps that you can take to prevent the various causes of conjunctivitis. Generally speaking, they center on preventing allergens or microbes from coming into contact with your eyes.

Some tips for preventing allergic conjunctivitis are:

  • Learn which allergens trigger your allergic conjunctivitis and take steps to avoid them.
  • Wash your hands frequently to help clear off any allergens.
  • Try to avoid touching your eyes with your hands, which can bring your eyes into contact with allergens.
  • Be sure to wash towels, pillowcases, and bed linens regularly with hot water.
  • Use a dehumidifier to help deter the growth of mold in your home.
  • Keep the windows and doors of your home and car shut, particularly during pollen season.
  • Wear eyeglasses or sunglasses while outside to help prevent things like pollen from contacting your eyes.
  • Don’t allow animals into your bedroom and be sure to wash your hands after petting them.
  • Consider hardwood floors instead of carpet, as carpet can trap allergens.

A few pointers to prevent coming down with bacterial or viral conjunctivitis include:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Try to avoid touching your eyes with your hands.
  • Don’t share personal items, such as cosmetics, towels, or contact lens solution.
  • Make sure to use clean towels when washing or drying your face or eyes.

If you have allergic conjunctivitis that isn’t clearing up with at-home care, talk to your doctor. They can help determine which allergens may be triggering your condition or prescribe you a stronger medication to ease your symptoms.

See your doctor if you suspect you have bacterial conjunctivitis, as you may need to be prescribed antibiotic eye drops. Bacterial conjunctivitis is more commonly associated with thicker discharge that may cause your eyelids to stick together.

Some symptoms can signal a more serious problem with your eyes. Always seek prompt medical care for any of the following symptoms:

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by your body’s reaction to an allergen that has come into contact with your eye. Some common allergens are pollen, dust mites, and pet dander.

Allergic conjunctivitis isn’t contagious. However, bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are.

If you have allergic conjunctivitis, you can make lifestyle changes to help prevent coming into contact with allergens that cause your symptoms. Various OTC or prescription medications can also help relieve symptoms.