Eye Allergy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Eye Allergy_ Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What Are Eye Allergies

An eye allergy or allergic conjunctivitis is a severe immune response occurring when the eye comes into contact with an irritating substance. If you are witnessing itchiness in your eye and your eyes turn red, teary, or you feel a burning sensation, then you might have eye allergies (allergic conjunctivitis), a condition that affects many people. They are quite common and occurs when eyes react to something that irritates them. A substance called histamine is produced by the eyes to fight off the allergen. Due to this, the eyelids and conjunctiva become red, swollen, and itchy. In this condition, tearing and burning of the eyes is common. 

Eye allergies are incapable of spreading from one person to another. People having eye allergies commonly have nasal allergies too, with an itchy, stuffy nose and sneezing. It is a temporary condition that is related to seasonal allergies. You are capable of getting an eye allergy from pet dander, smoke, pollen, dust, perfumes, or even food. If you fail to avoid the cause, these allergies can be more serious. You may further experience burning and itching and even extreme sensitivity to light.  Allergic or vernal keratoconjunctivitis might result in scarring of the cornea and other vision problems. 


Symptoms Of Eye Allergies

Due to excessive fluid in the eye, eye discharge occurs. It can be clear as well as watery and thick as well as opaque. Causes of eye discharge can be many ranging from infections to allergic reactions. Allergic reactions can make your eyes itchy and watery. Pinkeye or conjunctivitis is caused by both allergies and infections. Eye discharge related to infections is generally accompanied by some other symptoms that include:

  • Redness and irritation in the eyes
  • Itching
  • Tearing or watery eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Soreness, burning, or pain
  • Sensitivity towards light

There are some other symptoms as well in few cases such as a stuffy, runny nose, and sneezing. Some people may also experience a headache, an itchy or sore throat, or coughing.


Causes of Eye Allergies

An allergy can be explained when a human body’s immune system starts reacting to a normally harmless allergen. The moment an allergen comes in contact with your eye, particular cells within your eye (called mast cells) produce histamine and other substances to fight off the allergen. This reaction leads your eyes to become red, itchy, and watery. 

Allergens present in the air whether indoor or outdoor lead to many eye allergies. These allergens include:

  • Pollen from ragweed, grass, trees: These eye allergies are the most common ones and they are called seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.
  • Pet dander, dust, and various other indoor allergens: These eye allergies last year-round and are known as chronic (perennial) conjunctivitis.
  • Perfumes, makeup, or other chemicals: These can aggravate eye allergies known as contact conjunctivitis.
  • An allergic reaction to contact lenses, known as giant papillary conjunctivitis: These can lead to bumps on the inside of your eyelid, can make your eyes sensitive and red.

In a few cases, people can be allergic to preservative chemicals in lubricating or prescribed eye drops. So, if possible, the affected person should use preservative-free drops instead.

Also, the eyes can react to other allergens that don’t even come in direct contact with the eye. For example, specific foods or insect bites or stings.

There are cases where people tend to inherit eye allergies from their parents. Both of your parents having allergies is more a threat to you for inheriting them than one of them having it.


Basic Anatomy Of The Outer Eye

Eye allergies involve the conjunctiva. Conjunctiva is the tissue lining (mucus membrane) covering the white surface of the eyeball and the inner folds of the eyelids. The conjunctiva can be understood as a barrier structure that is very much exposed to the environment and the many different allergens that become airborne. It is rich in blood vessels and carries more mast cells than the lungs. 

The lacrimal (tear) glands are located in the upper portions and the outer portions of the eye. They are responsible for releasing the watery part of tears, which maintains the moisture of the eye and washes irritants away. The tears carry crucial elements of immune defense like immunoglobulins (antibodies), lymphocytes (specialized white blood cells), and enzymes. 

The cornea is the transparent sheath in front of the lens of the eye. The cornea contains no blood vessels and little immune activity.


Allergic Eye Conditions

  1. Allergic Conjunctivitis which is also known as “allergic conjunctivitis”, is the most common allergic eye disorder. Usually, the condition is seasonal and is related to hay fever. The prime cause is pollens, although indoor allergens like dust mites, moulds, and dander from household pets like cats and dogs might affect the eyes year-round. Typical symptoms include itching, redness, tearing, watery discharge, swollen eyelids, and burning. To a major extent, the initial symptoms appear associated with histamine release. 

Options for treatment may include topical antihistamine drops like olopatadine (Patanol), decongestants, and the latest mast-cell stabilizer medications. Topical steroids must be used only when prescribed by a doctor for intense reactions and on a short-term basis due to the potential for side effects. Generally, oral antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin) or cetirizine (Zyrtec) are considered the least effective option, however, they are used often for treating allergic rhinitis with allergic conjunctivitis

  1. Allery Assist: Rubbing your itchy eye is a natural response. But rubbing usually aggravates the allergic reaction because of the physical impact on the mast cells, which leads them to release more mediators of the immune response. Therefore, avoid rubbing your eyes.
  2. Conjunctivitis with Atopic Dermatitis: Generally known as “atopic keratoconjunctivitis”, this condition is a notorious cause of intense eye changes, specifically in young adults. Atopic keratoconjunctivitis denotes inflammation of both the conjunctiva and cornea. “Kerato” implies the cornea. Usually, this kind of conjunctivitis affects males three times more frequently than females. It may appear in late adolescence. 


Treatment For Eye Allergies

Treatment for eye allergies
  1. Allergy assist: Keeping the eyes moist with artificial tears helps to dilute assembled allergens and also helps prevent the allergens from sticking to the conjunctiva. The defense function of the natural tear film can be improved by tear substitutes.
  2. Topical Antihistamines & Decongestants: Histamine receptors in the conjunctiva are blocked with the help of antihistamine. The histamine, therefore, becomes incapable of attaching itself to the conjunctiva and exerts its effects.
  3. Topical Mast-Cell Stabilizers: Mast-cell stabilizers help block the release of chemical mediators of inflammation from the mast cells. 
  4. Topical anti-inflammatory drugs: Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are specifically used for treating itchy eyes. They help reduce redness and swelling to a lesser extent. 


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The best way to treat your eyes is to visit your eye care professional and get your eyes checked regularly. We will be able to assess the best method of treatment for your eye ailment.

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