Allergic Conjunctivitis: Types, Triggers, Diagnosis, and Relief
What is Allergic Conjunctivitis?
Allergic conjunctivitis is an eye inflammation that occurs when the conjunctiva, the thin membrane covering the white part of the eye, becomes irritated and inflamed due to exposure to allergens such as pollen, mold spores, dust mites, or pet dander. It can be seasonal or perennial (year-round).
What are the Types of Allergic Conjunctivitis?
There are several types of allergic conjunctivitis, which are differentiated based on their causes, symptoms, and duration. Symptoms may include itching, redness, tearing, swelling, and a gritty or burning sensation in the eyes. It may be accompanied by other allergic symptoms. Types of allergic conjunctivitis include:
Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC)
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is the most common type of allergic conjunctivitis. It's caused by exposure to seasonal allergens such as pollen, grass, and ragweed. It typically occurs during the spring, summer, or fall and is associated with other conditions like allergic rhinitis. Hence, it may be accompanied by other allergic symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and nasal congestion. Symptoms typically appear suddenly and peak within a few days, but they may go away when the allergen is no longer in the air.
Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis (PAC)
Perennial allergic conjunctivitis is a type of allergic conjunctivitis that occurs year-round. It is typically caused by indoor allergens such as dust, animal dander, or mold. Symptoms of perennial allergic conjunctivitis are usually milder than those of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. However, they can last for months. Symptoms may be less severe than with SAC but can still be bothersome.
Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis (VKC)
Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a rare and severe form of allergic conjunctivitis that typically affects young males. VKC usually starts in the spring and subsides in the fall but can occur year-round in warm climates. It's characterized by intense itching, swelling, eye discharge, and sensitivity to light. VKC often requires more aggressive treatment than other types of allergic conjunctivitis.
Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis (AKC)
Atopic keratoconjunctivitis is a chronic and severe form of allergic conjunctivitis. It typically affects adults with a history of eczema or other allergic conditions. It typically starts in childhood and persists into adulthood. It's characterized by intense itching, swelling, and redness of the eyes and the formation of papillae (small bumps) on the conjunctiva.
Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC)
Giant papillary conjunctivitis is caused by the prolonged use of contact lenses, which can lead to irritation and inflammation of the conjunctiva. However, trauma, surgery, prolonged dryness, and certain environmental factors like smoke or wind are also possible causes. Symptoms may include itching, redness, discharge from the eyes, and discomfort when wearing contact lenses.
What Causes Allergic Conjunctivitis?
Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by an overreaction of the immune system, leading to eye inflammation and other uncomfortable symptoms. This condition can be triggered by a wide array of sources, from allergies to medications. Here is a quick overview of what may be causing your conjunctivitis.
Allergens such as pollen, pet dander, mold spores, dust mites, and even certain foods can trigger an allergic reaction in your eyes. When exposed to these substances, your immune system releases histamine into the bloodstream. This histamine causes the blood vessels in your eyes to swell and become irritated, which leads to allergic conjunctivitis.
Contact with Irritants
Exposure to certain chemicals or products, such as chlorine or air fresheners, can also cause eye irritation and lead to allergic conjunctivitis. These irritants are often found in everyday items like cleaning products, cosmetics, and even vehicle exhaust fumes. Even cigarette smoke can cause eye irritation for those sensitive to smoke.
Certain medications, such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs, may also cause allergic reactions in some individuals, which may lead to eye irritation and swelling. If you experience any signs of eye inflammation after taking medication (such as redness or itching), stop taking it immediately and consult your doctor for advice on how to manage the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis safely and effectively.
Infections can cause allergic conjunctivitis in two ways. First, bacterial or viral infections of the eye can cause inflammation and irritation that leads to an allergic reaction. Second, some bacteria or viruses may trigger an immune system response that results in an allergic reaction even when there is no infection present. For example, some people with chronic blepharitis (an inflammation of the eyelids) will experience flare-ups when exposed to certain triggers, such as pollen or dust mites.
People with a family history of allergic conditions such as asthma, eczema, or hay fever are more likely to develop allergic conjunctivitis. This is because they are more likely to have a genetic predisposition toward developing allergies. People with allergies often have hypersensitive immune systems that are more likely to react strongly when exposed to allergens like dust mites or pollen.
Other Medical Conditions
Other medical conditions such as autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, or rosacea can cause or exacerbate allergic conjunctivitis. These conditions affect the body's ability to regulate its immune system, leading to an increased risk of developing allergic reactions.
There are numerous symptoms associated with allergic conjunctivitis, an eye condition caused by an allergic reaction.
- Redness of the eyes
- Itching or burning sensation in the eyes
- Tearing or watering of the eyes
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Sensitivity to light
- Clear or watery discharge from the eyes
- Blurred vision
- Gritty or sandy feeling in the eyes
It's important to note that these symptoms may vary in severity and can affect one or both eyes.
People who live in areas with high pollen counts are more likely to suffer from seasonal allergies that can often lead to allergic conjunctivitis. Additionally, people who have a family history of allergy-related conditions are more likely to develop allergic conjunctivitis due to their increased sensitivity to allergens. Other potential risk factors include living in a dry climate and using contact lenses.
Age is also an important consideration when it comes to allergic conjunctivitis. Children are generally more prone to developing this condition than adults due to their immature immune systems and lack of built-up immunity against allergens. However, anyone can develop allergic conjunctivitis at any age if they are exposed to enough allergens or have an underlying medical condition that puts them at greater risk.
Is Allergic Conjunctivitis Contagious?
Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. It's caused by allergens in the environment, so if you have allergies, you're more likely to experience this condition than someone who does not have allergies. Additionally, allergic conjunctivitis cannot be spread from person-to-person contact like other illnesses can be. So, if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with allergic conjunctivitis, there's no need to worry about spreading the condition.
How Long Does Allergic Conjunctivitis Last?
The duration of allergic conjunctivitis can vary depending on the severity of the allergic reaction and the effectiveness of the treatment. Some experience mild symptoms that clear up on their own within a few days, while others have more severe symptoms that persist for several weeks or months.
Factors such as the allergen causing the reaction and any pre-existing health conditions may also affect the duration of allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis can last as long as you are exposed to your allergy trigger. Note that untreated or poorly managed symptoms can lead to complications, such as eye infections or damage to the cornea.
When to See a Doctor
If you suspect you have allergic conjunctivitis, it's important to know when to see a doctor. While mild cases of allergic conjunctivitis can often be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) medications and self-care measures, more severe cases may require medical attention.
Here are some signs that you should see a doctor for your allergic conjunctivitis:
- Your symptoms are severe or don't improve with OTC treatments: If you're experiencing severe symptoms, such as significant redness, swelling, or pain in your eyes, or your symptoms don't improve with OTC treatments, it's a good idea to see a doctor.
- Your vision is affected: If you're experiencing changes in your vision, such as blurriness or sensitivity to light, it's important to seek medical attention right away. These symptoms may be a sign of a more serious condition that requires immediate treatment.
- Your symptoms are persistent or recurring: If your symptoms persist for more than a few days or keep recurring, it's important to see a doctor. Chronic allergic conjunctivitis can indicate an underlying condition that may require ongoing treatment.
- You have a pre-existing eye condition: If you have a pre-existing eye condition, such as glaucoma or cataracts, or if you're taking medications that can affect your eyes, it's important to see a doctor if you develop symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.
How is Allergic Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?
Allergic conjunctivitis can be diagnosed through a combination of physical examination, medical history, and allergy testing. Here are some of the main ways allergic conjunctivitis is diagnosed:
A healthcare provider may physically examine your eyes and surrounding tissues to look for signs of inflammation, redness, or discharge. They may also ask you about your symptoms and medical history to help determine the underlying cause of your condition.
Allergy testing can help identify the specific allergens that are causing your allergic conjunctivitis. A professional health provider can do this through skin tests or blood tests, which measure the level of antibodies in your blood that are associated with allergic reactions. Your healthcare provider may refer you to an allergist for allergy testing.
At-home Allergy Test
There are also at-home allergy test kits available, such as the one offered by Wyndly, that can help identify common seasonal and environmental allergens that may be causing your symptoms. These tests typically involve collecting a small blood sample through a finger prick and sending it to a lab for analysis. With Wyndly's at-home allergy test kit, you can get reliable results quickly from the comfort of your home.
How is Allergic Conjunctivitis Treated?
There are several effective treatments available for allergic conjunctivitis. We'll go over some of the most common treatments for this condition. If you suspect that you are suffering from allergic conjunctivitis one of these options may work for you however see a doctor if symptoms worsen.
Several home remedies can help relieve the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. These include:
- Applying a cold compress to your eyes may help reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Washing your eyelids with warm water and mild soap to remove irritants that may be causing your allergic reaction.
- Using artificial tears can help lubricate your eyes and relieve dryness and itchiness.
- Avoiding rubbing your eyes as it may aggravate the symptoms.
- Keeping your hands clean to prevent the spread of allergens and irritants.
- Applying chamomile tea bags to your eyes and taking supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids or quercetin.
- Washing your linens and pillowcases in hot water can eliminate allergens.
- Using allergen covers for your pillows and mattresses can help minimize allergens.
- Using scent-free detergents and soaps can help minimize triggers.
- Dusting carpets, curtains, toys, and upholstery often helps as well.
Antihistamines, such as loratadine and cetirizine, block the effects of histamine in the body, which can temporarily help reduce symptoms such as itching and redness. Antihistamines are available in both oral and topical forms, such as eye drops.
Decongestants, such as phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine, work by narrowing blood vessels in the eyes and reducing swelling, which can help relieve symptoms of redness and irritation. Decongestants are also available in both oral and topical forms.
Mast Cell Stabilizers
Mast cell stabilizers, such as cromolyn sodium, lodoxamide tromethamine, and nedocromil, work by preventing the release of histamine and other inflammatory substances from mast cells, which can help reduce symptoms such as itching, redness, and swelling. These medications are often used as eye drops.
Steroids, such as prednisone and dexamethasone, are anti-inflammatory medications that can help reduce swelling and inflammation in the eyes. Steroids are often used in more severe cases of allergic conjunctivitis and may be prescribed as eye drops, ointments, or oral medications.
Corticosteroid Eye Drops
These potent anti-inflammatory agents can be very effective in treating allergic conjunctivitis. However, you should only use them under the supervision of a doctor because they can have serious side effects if used improperly.
Sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT, is an allergy treatment that involves taking small doses of allergens under the tongue. This can help reduce sensitivity to allergens over time and result in long-term relief from your allergy symptoms.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you're experiencing symptoms of allergies, such as sneezing, itchy eyes, and congestion, take our allergy assessment to find out more about your specific triggers and potential treatment options. Our team of allergy experts can help create a personalized treatment plan that fits your needs and lifestyle.