Eye Allergies (Allergic Conjunctivitis): Types, Signs, Diagnosis, and Relief
Do you suffer from itchy, watery eyes and struggle to open your eyelids in the morning? If you do, you may be among the millions affected by eye allergies or allergic conjunctivitis. An eye allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction to certain allergens in the air that could cause discomfort in your eyes and disrupt your daily life.
This article will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatments of eye allergies so that you can identify if you have an allergy and take measures to reduce its effect on your life.
What Are Eye Allergies?
Eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis, are an inflammatory reaction in the eyes due to airborne allergens and irritants such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or smoke. These allergens irritate the outer covering of your eyelid, known as the conjunctiva, causing inflammation.
What Causes Eye Allergies?
Various indoor and outdoor allergens can cause eye allergies. Indoor allergens include dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores, while outdoor allergens include grass, tree, and weed pollen. Other irritants, such as contact lenses, smoke, cosmetics, and perfume, can also trigger an allergic reaction in the eyes.
Your immune system protects your body against harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria. If you’re an allergy sufferer, your immune system will mistake allergens such as pollen for being dangerous and produce antibodies to fight them off.
This, in turn, triggers the mast cells of your conjunctiva to release histamine and other chemicals. The histamine causes the blood vessels in your eyes to swell, leading to redness, itching, and swollen eyes.
Types of Eye Allergies
You can experience different types of eye allergies. The most common types include:
- Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC): SAC is the most common type of allergic conjunctivitis. As the name suggests, it occurs when seasonal allergies are in full swing. It’s common during the spring and summer due to high pollen counts.
- Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis (PAC): PAC is a type of ocular allergy that is characterized by chronic, year-round symptoms. It is caused by allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores present in the home all year.
- Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis: This is a chronic, non-contagious allergic disorder that usually affects young males. While this condition can occur year-round, the symptoms may worsen during the spring or warm months.
- Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis (AKC): AKC is a chronic inflammatory eye disease affecting patients with atopic dermatitis. It’s common in older patients, and symptoms such as redness, severe itching, and a burning sensation can occur year-round.
- Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis: It occurs when one or several small round bumps (papillae) develop on the inner surface of the upper eyelid near the edge of the eyelashes. These bumps can cause irritation and discomfort, leading to redness, swelling, and itching in the affected area.
Eye Allergy Symptoms
When you have eye allergies, you may experience a variety of symptoms, such as:
- Red, itchy eyes
- Eye twitching
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Watery eyes
- Blurry vision
- Feeling like you have grit or dirt in your eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last for hours or days at a time. Bear in mind that viruses and bacteria can also cause similar symptoms, so getting a proper diagnosis is essential.
How Can I Prevent Eye Allergies?
The best way to prevent eye allergies is to avoid triggers and allergens that can cause a reaction. Avoiding allergens entirely can be difficult but there are effective ways to minimize exposure. Here are some tips to reduce your exposure to allergens and protect your eyes:
- Keep windows closed during the peak pollen season
- Wear sunglasses when outdoors to prevent pollen from getting into your eyes
- Limit outdoor activities on days with high pollen counts and only go
- Use a vacuum and air conditioner with a HEPA filter to remove allergens from inside your home
- Wash your hand and change clothes after petting an animal or visiting a home with a pet
- Replace carpeting with hard floorings, such as tile or wood, as carpets can trap allergens
- Wash your bedding in hot water at least once a week to reduce dust mites
- Clean your floor with a damp rag instead of sweeping
- Use mite-proof covers on mattresses, pillows, and comforters
- If mold triggers your allergy, use a dehumidifier to maintain a humidity level of between 30% and 50%
- If you wear contact lenses, make sure to replace them regularly and clean them properly
- Avoid rubbing your eyes with your hands, as this can cause further irritation
When to See a Doctor
As we mentioned earlier, one of the symptoms of eye allergies is eye twitching. In most cases, eye twitching is a benign condition that will go away on its own with simple practices like resting or decreasing your caffeine intake.
However, seek medical attention for eye twitching if:
- The twitching lasts for more than a week
- Your eyelid closes completely when the eyes twitch
- You’re unable to open the eye
- Your eyelid has a discharge or is swollen
- You experience twitching in other areas of your body or face
Seeing a doctor in these scenarios is especially vital, given that eye twitching may be an indicator of serious health conditions like cervical dystonia and multiple sclerosis.
The above preventative measures should help you reduce exposure to allergens and protect your eyes from annoying symptoms, including eye twitching. However, you should also see a doctor for eye allergies if:
- You experience severe pain, blurred vision, or increased sensitivity to light
- Your symptoms don’t improve with OTC medications
- You have any underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, that may worsen the condition
- Your eyes are itchy, red, and swollen for more than a few days
Your doctor can diagnose the cause of your symptoms and provide the necessary treatment plan.
If you go to the doctor with eye allergy symptoms, they will recommend a test to determine the exact allergen triggering your symptoms. They can use a skin-prick test or an at-home allergy test.
A skin prick test involves a doctor pricking the skin on your arm with a needle dipped in an allergen extract. If you're allergic to a given extract, the skin will swell and become red. Skin prick tests are often uncomfortable and time-consuming.
For a more convenient and comfortable method, you can try an at-home test like Wyndly's at-home allergy test kit. You just order this kit online, and Wyndly will ship it right to your home.
Once you get the kit, collect a small sample through a quick finger-prick test and mail it back to Wyndly. Allergy doctors will analyze your allergy profile and create a personalized treatment plan.
Here are some of the treatment options for managing and treating eye allergies:
Over-the-Counter Allergy Eye Drops and Medications
OTC treatment options can provide short-term relief from eye allergy symptoms. Common OTC options include:
- Artificial Tear Drops: These can relieve allergy symptoms by washing away the allergens from your eyes and moisturizing them.
- Decongestant Eye Drops: These can reduce inflammation and constrict blood vessels in the eyes to reduce swelling and redness. However, you shouldn’t use them for more than three days to prevent a rebound effect, such as increased eye swelling.
- Oral Antihistamines: Oral antihistamines may relieve itchiness, redness, and watery eyes. However, these medications can cause drowsiness, so it’s best to take them at night.
Prescription Allergy Eye Drops
If OTC medications and treatments don’t provide enough relief from the symptoms, your doctor may prescribe stronger prescription eye drops, such as:
- Antihistamine Eye Drops: These drops contain an antihistamine to reduce redness, itching, and swelling of the eyes. While these drops provide quick relief, you should be aware of side effects such as dry eyes and a stinging sensation. Talk to your doctor if you experience any side effects.
- Mast Cell Stabilizer Eye Drops: The eye drops prevent histamine from being released. You should use the drops before exposure to the allergens for the best results. Your doctor may prescribe eye drops containing an antihistamine and a mast cell stabilizer.
- Corticosteroid Eye Drops: These are effective in treating chronic and severe eye allergy symptoms. If you must use corticosteroid eye drops for over two weeks, you should consult an ophthalmologist first.
Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) is an effective treatment option if you're looking for long-term relief from seasonal allergies. It involves administering small doses of allergens in the form of drops or tablets under the tongue to desensitize the body to them.
SLIT is a form of allergy immunotherapy that helps reduce the body's allergic response to certain substances. The desensitization can help retrain your immune system to stop reacting when exposed to allergens, preventing allergy symptoms such as redness, itching, and watery eyes.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you're tired of eye allergies interfering with your life, our allergy doctors at Wyndly can help. The doctors will take time to understand your allergy profile and then create a personalized treatment plan involving sublingual immunotherapy to ensure you get long-term relief from your allergies. Take the first step towards better allergy relief by taking our online allergy assessment today.