Allergic Conjunctivitis

allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis causes red, watery, itchy eyes. The common cause is an allergy to pollen in the hay fever season. Other causes are less common such as allergies to house dust mite, cosmetics, and problems with contact lenses. Eye drops usually ease symptoms.

What causes allergic conjunctivitis?

Allergy means that the immune system over-reacts to something which causes inflammation. Causes include the following:

  • Seasonal conjunctivitis due to pollens and moulds
  • Perennial conjunctivitis
  • This is a conjunctivitis that persists throughout the year. This is commonly due to an allergy to house dust mite. House dust mite is a tiny insect-like creature that lives in every home. It mainly lives in bedrooms and mattresses, as part of the dust.

  • Allergies to animals
  • Coming into contact with some animals can cause a bout of allergic conjunctivitis.

  • Giant papillary conjunctivitis
  • This is uncommon. It is inflammation of the conjunctiva lining the upper eyelid. It occurs in some people who have a small object on the eye - most commonly, a contact lens.

  • Contact conjunctivitis
  • Some people become sensitised to cosmetics, make-up, eye drops or other chemicals that come into contact with the conjunctiva. This then causes an allergic response and symptoms of conjunctivitis.

    What are the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis?
    1. Both eyes are usually affected and symptoms develop quickly.
    2. The eyes are usually itchy, and the whites of the eyes look red or pink.
    3. A burning feeling may occur, but the eyes are not usually painful.
    4. The eyelids tend to swell.
    5. The eyes water more than usual, but do not become too gluey as in infective conjunctivitis.
    6. Vision is not affected.
    7. In severe cases the conjunctiva under the upper eyelids may swell and look lumpy.
    What is the treatment for allergic conjunctivitis?
    • If you use contact lenses: in general, do not wear lenses until symptoms have gone, and for 24 hours after the last dose of any eye drop or ointment.
    • Try not to rub your eyes as this can cause more inflammation.
    • Bathing the eyes with a flannel soaked in cold water may ease symptoms.
    • Avoid the cause of the allergy, if possible.
    • Eye drops that reduce the allergic reaction are often prescribed. Two main classes of eye drops are used - antihistamine eye drops and mast cell stabilizer eye drops. If your eyelids are very swollen, it may take several days for the drops to ease symptoms fully.
    • Antihistamine tablets. You can take these to ease the general symptoms of hay fever. They may ease eye symptoms but they tend not to work as well as eye drops to ease the eye symptoms.
    • Steroid eye drops are rarely needed or used. Steroids are good at reducing inflammation. However, they should only be used if other treatments fail.
    • Steroid tablets are occasionally used for 3-5 days when symptoms are severe.
    When to seek expert assistance?

    See a doctor if symptoms do not settle within a few days. Also, see a doctor urgently if any of the following occur:

    • Symptoms change (for example, light starts to hurt your eyes).
    • If you have pain in the eye (mild soreness rather than pain is usual with conjunctivitis).
    • Spots or blisters develop on the skin next to the eye.
    • Your vision is reduced.
    • The eye becomes very red - in particular, if it is on one side only.

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