Eye Allergies (or allergic conjunctivitis) is an allergy reaction taking place in the eyes.
Most often, the same airborne allergens that cause hay fever enter into the eyes and cause the allergic reaction to take place on the surface of the eyes.
The eyes have a thin and clear membrane that covers the whites of the eyes for protection and it is called the conjunctiva. This membrane is also on the inside of the eyelid and warns us if dust or other particles get under the eyelid. The conjunctiva helps the eyeball and eyelid to stay moist.
The conjunctiva is part of the immune system and contains a high concentration of mast cells. Mast cells are tissue cells that contain histamine and other inflammatory chemicals. When an allergen comes in contact with the eyes and the person is allergic to that allergen, the mast cells release chemicals that cause the blood vessels in the conjunctiva to enlarge. This is quickly followed by your eyes becoming red, teary, and itching.
Those experiencing allergic conjunctivitis are those who are already allergic to an allergen of allergic rhinitis. When the body is sensitized to a particular allergen, a large amount of IgE antibodies are produced and lie in wait of the detection of that specific allergen. Once detected, the immune system is going to respond whether the detection is in your nasal passages or in your eyes.
The conjunctiva is not only on the whites of the eyes,
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it is also inside on the eye lid.
Types of Allergic Conjunctivitis
There are different kinds of conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by an allergen that the body is allergic to. As a result it usually affects both eyes and is not contagious.
On the other hand, conjunctivitis can be cause by a virus or by bacteria. When infection is involved instead of an allergen, it is commonly referred to as Pink Eye. One eye or both eyes can be affected and non-allergic conjunctives can be contagious.
The Cause of Allergic Conjunctivitis
Because the same allergens that cause allergic rhinitis are involved, eye allergies can have the same "seasonal" and "perennial" classification that allergic rhinitis have.
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis occurs only during certain times of the year and is usually caused by pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. Perennial allergic conjunctivitis can occur year-round and is usually caused by pet dander, dust mite debris indoor mold, and cockroach debris.
Airborne allergens are the most common cause of eye allergies. Apart from the allergens that cause hay fever, other triggers may be;
- air pollution from poor indoor air quality
- cigarette smoke
- air fresheners
- diesel exhaust
- eye injuries
Eye Allergy Symptoms
Symptoms often involve the same symptoms as hay fever. The symptoms are a result of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals being released from the mast cells. These inflammatory chemicals cause;
- the blood vessels to enlarge causing the whites of the eyes to turn red
- increase tear production (watery discharge)
- itchiness of the eyes
- eyelids becoming inflamed (mild or severe swelling)
- sometimes blurred vision
- a feeling like your eyes are burning
Although many times eye allergies occur with allergic rhinitis, it can occur on its own. On the other hand, symptoms of watery eyes, red and itchy eyes do not always mean that you have eye allergies.
Eye Allergy Relief
The best way to treat ocular allergies is to avoid the substance that causes the allergic reaction. This is not always easy when airborne particles are involved. At times, medication will be needed. The goal is to reduce your symptoms to a level that is tolerable and/or manageable by using the least amount of medication.
Discuss your options with your health care provider. They can help you find the best plan of action for you. They may recommend prescriptions medication or refer you to over-the-counter medication. Discuss with them the possible side effects that may occur. Possible options may include (but not limited to):
- Eye drops: Artificial tears can wash away the allergen and keep the eye moist.
- Antihistamines: Blocks the effects of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals released by the mast cells. They help with reducing the redness, itchiness, and swelling.
- Mast Cells Stabilizers: Block the mast cells from releasing their inflammatory chemicals such as histamine and is most effective when used prior to an exposure.
- Decongestants: They help to constrict the blood vessels in the eyes to reduce the redness.
- Cromolyn sodium: If used before the symptoms occur, they can prevent the release of histamine.
- Immunotherapy: Allergy shots desensitize your body to the allergens that you are allergic to. You gradually become more tolerant of the substances that cause your allergic reaction.
Because the same airborne allergens that cause allergic rhinitis affect eye allergies, it is important to know exactly what you are allergic to. The following pages will help you find ways to avoid the allergen that you are allergic to.
Go to the nasal allergy HOME PAGE from eye allergies.