Allergies are pretty common, and if you think about it, you probably know someone with an allergy. Maybe they react to pollen in the fields and start sneezing as a reaction. That would mean that the allergen affects their nostrils. It makes sense that eyes, too, would have allergies.
Think about it. This sensory organ is among the first to come into contact with allergens. If you are in a dusty room, the dust will affect your eyes too. But you might not notice this given that most people would react by sneezing.
Studies show that eye allergies are quite common. They could be even more common than you think. Did you know that they affect about a fifth of the world’s population? This figure could even go higher in the years to come owing to an increase in allergens.
In this article, we will delve into eye allergies associated with redness- allergic conjunctivitis. We will further divide it into five categories: seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC), perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC), atopic keratoconjunctivitis (AKC), vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC) and giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC). Let’s get started:
What is allergic conjunctivitis?
This condition comes about owing to exposure to an allergen. Symptoms of exposure vary from mild to moderate. Most people experience redness, which goes away upon the use of medication. In some cases, people get severe symptoms, which include burning sensations and swelling, among others.
This disease is not like conjunctivitis, which is bacterial. It results from allergies and can thus not spread from one person to the other.
Conjunctivitis refers to a disease that affects the conjunctiva (a layer of tissue at the front of the eyeball and eyelids). This part protects the eye from allergens, bacteria, smoke, and other such elements in the air. When an allergen or other condition inflames the conjunctiva, conjunctivitis comes about.
Other than allergies, conjunctivitis can also result from viruses, bacteria, or physical and chemical irritants. The course of treatment depends on the cause of the inflammation and how severe it is.
In this case, we will focus on allergies as a cause and what courses of treatment apply for these instances.
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC)
This condition also goes by the common name hayfever. It is the most common type of eye allergy. It comes about when eyes get exposed to pollen in the atmosphere. The irritants could be grass pollen or ragweed pollen, depending on the current season.
People who suffer such allergies will feel an itch in their eyes and will experience a watery discharge at the time. It is also common to feel a burning sensation and see redness owing to the inflammation.
For some people, the allergic reactions go beyond the eye, and they experience them in their noses and throats. This condition is different from PAC, which occurs throughout the year, triggered by various allergens. With PAC, the symptoms tend to be mild.
People with PAC often experience redness in their eyes, accompanied by puffiness and an itching sensation. They can also tear and have watery discharge coming from their eyes.
If you experience such symptoms, you should consult a licensed eye doctor. You could be dealing with another eye condition. Only an eye exam can ascertain the presence of an allergic reaction to seasonal allergens.
What causes SAC?
You get SAC if you are allergic to environmental pathogens that are present during a given season. You are more at risk of getting it upon exposure to the allergens and if you have seasonal allergies.
SAC diagnosis and treatment
Exhibiting the above symptoms alone will not confirm the presence of an allergic reaction. Your doctor will assess the condition, perform some tests, and review your history. If proven that you are indeed suffering from SAC, your doctor will advise you on what to do.
In the past, people would wash away the allergens to relieve the symptoms. While it worked, it provided short-term relief. Nowadays, you have many treatment methods at your disposal. They include the use of antihistamines, decongestants, mast cell stabilizers, lubricants, steroids, and NSAIDs.
The way forward will depend on how your body reacts to the allergen. In most cases, you should see improvement upon using antihistamines and other related drugs.
Perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC)
Unlike seasonal allergies, this condition can affect you at any time of the year. Millions of people across the globe suffer from this owing to exposure to allergens. They include animal dander, dust, and chemicals that affect the eyes.
While some people develop allergies early, you can develop PAC at any point in your life. It is thus best that you keep away from allergens.
People suffering from this allergy will experience more or less what people with allergies go through. However, there are some variations which include a runny nose and throat symptoms. They also get redness, tearing, itching, and gritty sensations in the eyes, pain, and swelling.
You may experience one or more of these symptoms, but that does not necessarily mean that you have an allergic reaction.
PAC diagnosis and treatment
The doctor will run some tests to ensure that you have an allergic reaction before administering any drugs. You should note that PAC is a chronic condition, and there is thus no cure for it. You can, however, get allergy shots to build your immune system to give you more resistance to the allergens. These will help you fight off reactions but will not cure the condition.
Where you have symptoms, the doctor can prescribe several treatments based on the severity of the condition. They include steroid drops and vasoconstrictors, which reduce swelling and redness and antihistamine drops.
Cold compresses also work in reducing the swelling and relieving the redness, as do oral antihistamines. When you need instant relief, antihistamine drops work best as they take effect within minutes.
Oral meds can take up to an hour for the results to show. Where you know that you will come into contact with allergens, you can use oral meds beforehand. Note that meds come with side effects, which you should discuss with your doctor.
You cannot wait for the allergies to clear up without using any meds. Doing so can cause a bacterial infection that can spread to the sinuses. It is always best to deal with the reactions as they occur.
Atopic keratoconjunctivitis (AKC)
This disease comes about due to atopy, which is genetic. Atopy refers to a situation where your body produces more antibodies than needed to fight an allergen. People with this condition suffer symptoms at any time of the year.
However, flare-ups are more common during the cold months when more allergens are in the atmosphere. This condition develops in adolescents and young adults, with more prevalence in men than women.
People with AKC experience redness and swelling in the conjunctiva, more so in the lower eyelid. It differs from VKC, where the upper lid suffers the brunt of the allergic reaction. Anyone experiencing symptoms related to this condition should seek medical attention.
Failure to do so can lead to the progress of other conditions such as scarring and cataracts. And these lead to more health issues.
How can you tell that you probably have AKC? Your eyelids experience redness and hardening. Your eyes get a burning sensation, in addition to tearing and itching. Furthermore, you become more sensitive to light. Note that these symptoms can also point to other eye problems, and you should thus consult a licensed eye doctor.
This condition is genetic. Thus, if it runs in your family, you have a high chance of developing it during your lifetime. You are also at risk if you have asthma, eczema, atopic dermatitis, and a family history of allergies.
AKC diagnosis and treatment
Having symptoms alone does not point to the possibility of AKC. You need to undergo a clinical exam where the doctor will delve into your family and medical history. Sometimes, a conjunctival biopsy may be necessary to confirm the presence of this genetic condition.
Once diagnosed, the doctor will administer oral and topical antihistamines, alongside mast cell stabilizers. These work in controlling symptoms associated with this disease. Given the extent of the itching, you may find yourself rubbing on your eyes a lot.
While it can seem harmless, you could end up damaging your eyes in the process. The doctor may thus advise you to wear cotton gloves while you sleep to avoid such damage. You should also steer clear of touching your eyes during the day.
The tear pH will increase during flare-ups owing to an increase in tearing. You will need saline irrigation and cold compresses to lower this pH. In some cases, you may need topical steroids when the flare-up is severe.
Vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC)
This rare condition is prevalent in young males aged three to twenty. It occurs seasonally and causes ocular inflammation. It accounts for a small percentage of ocular diseases across the globe and is more common in dry and warm regions.
People with this condition will experience symptoms at any time of the year, as is the case with PAC. But some seasons aggravate symptoms more than others.
The most common symptom is the hardening of the upper eyelid, as well as the presence of hard bumps along the same. The swelling of the conjunctiva is also common. Anyone with related symptoms should seek medical advice as scarring could come about from the ulcers.
Other than the signs outlined above, you should also be on the lookout for a mucus discharge, light sensitivity, and itching. These compounded could mean that you suffer from VKC. However, the only way to know for sure is to consult an eye doctor for a complete exam.
There is a strong relationship between a family history of allergies and the occurrence of this disease. People with asthma and eczema are also at risk. It also affects more men than women.
VKC diagnosis and treatment
Your doctor will go through your medical and family history during the assessment. Clinical exams will also be necessary during the diagnostic phase. For this condition, doctors administer mast cell stabilizers. These work in reducing discharge and itching in patients.
The doctor can also administer topical antihistamines to help with the itching. Where the symptoms are severe, the doctor could consider using corticosteroids.
Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC)
Under GPC, a foreign body causes irritation that leads to an allergic eye reaction. In most cases, contact lenses are to blame for this. It is thus quite different from other allergic reactions in the eye when you consider the cause. About a fifth of people wearing contact lens develop this disease.
The frequency of this condition ultimately depends on the precautions taken by the lens wearers. It also affects people with soft lenses more than it does those with hard ones. Replacing the lens works in protecting you from this condition.
In the above conditions, we outlined who is at more risk of developing the complications. In this case, no one seems to have the upper hand, as anyone could suffer a foreign body reaction in their eye. And no, this does not only affect people who wear contact lenses.
It also affects people who use artificial eye lenses, as well as people who have undergone eye surgery, among other risk factors. It thus does not matter how old you are or to which gender you belong.
However, you can protect yourself by taking some measures. One of these would be the frequent replacement of contact lenses. If you do this, you are less likely to develop GPC.
What symptoms do affected people exhibit? The thing with eye allergies is that they present more or less the same symptoms. In this case, you can expect redness, itching, tearing, mucus discharge, and discomfort. That happens in the early stages.
The condition progresses over time, causing more discomfort and the feeling of a foreign body. When this happens, those with contact lenses find it challenging to keep them on for long. Also, the mucus discharge affects their line of vision, and they thus have to remove their lenses.
Having these symptoms does not mean that you have GPC, as they relate closely to other types of conjunctivitis. It is thus best that you consult a licensed health professional who can conduct a thorough assessment of the affected eye. That allows the doctor to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.
GPC diagnosis and treatment
During the assessment, the doctor will get into any possible exposure you may have had in the last few weeks. You could be facing a viral infection rather than GPC.
The doctor will also look into your sexual history, drugs you have used, previous eye diseases, the presence of contact lenses, and a history of family allergies. In the end, they can rule out any other conditions such as VKC.
Note that pain and reduced vision are not symptoms of this condition. If these present, you should seek urgent medical attention. It is best to address problems as they arise, as opposed to letting them be.
The doctor will examine your eye in search of the allergy-trigger. Suppose you have a foreign body lodged in the eye, removing it will alleviate the symptoms. If it has arisen owing to the use of contact lenses, you will need to make some changes.
For one, you will need to change your routine by changing the lenses often. Also, you will need to wear them less for the periods that follow. People who use daily disposable lenses are less at risk of getting an allergic reaction.
Your doctor may advise that you switch to these in the event of frequent flare-ups. If all else fails, you may have to do away with contact lenses for a while.
Other treatment options include mast cell stabilizers, NSAIDs, steroids, and immunomodulating agents, among others. The best way to deal with this condition is to prevent its occurrence using some measures. Not wearing the lenses more than necessary is essential. Also, maintain hygiene standards and dispose of the lenses as per the required time frame.
Dealing with eye allergies
The best way to deal with an eye allergen is to avoid it as much as you can. For example, if wearing lenses for prolonged periods triggers GPC, then do not do it. If you know that working without a protective mask can result in PAC, wear protective clothing. You have to take charge of what you can control. That way, you can avoid making countless trips to the doctor’s office.
Now, how can you avoid your triggers? You have to identify them. That is why you need to get a thorough exam done where the doctor delves into your medical and family history. With that out of the way, the doctor can then point out what the causative factor is. And with that, the doctor can administer any of the following treatments:
Anti-Histamine Eye Drops
Eye drops work in reducing the symptoms associated with conditions such as SAC. Your doctor can prescribe some, and you can get others over-the-counter without a need for a prescription. You should use those that do not have sedating effects and whose results last for a long time. Do not use anything without a go-ahead from your eye doctor.
Drops alleviate itching in the eyes by blocking the release of histamine. You should read the directions on the product package before using the medicine to ensure you are safe. The last thing you want is to damage your eyes as you alleviate allergy symptoms.
Side effects of eye drops are highly likely to occur. But if anything out of the norm happens, discontinue use and consult your doctor.
You can use these to minimize the associated symptoms. However, you should not do so for more than six weeks without consulting a licensed eye doctor. If you are yet to see an improvement, more interventions may be necessary.
Steroid Eye Drops
While you can use steroid eye drops, they are not recommendable. Their side effects could be worse than what you are fighting. There have been cases where children have suffered blindness owing to their use.
If an eye doctor prescribes this to you, ensure that they have the license to do so. You can always get a second opinion before using these eye drops.
Mast Cell Stabilizers
Stabilizers work in preventing the release of histamine in mast cells. Mast cells not only make, but they also store histamine. In this way, you can avoid an allergic reaction. Some stabilizers also offer anti-inflammatory benefits to their users. However, they will not provide as much relief as steroids.
As with all drugs, they do have likely side effects that your doctor will consider before administering the stabilizers. Examples include but are not limited to stinging and burning sensations, and blurred vision.
They are fast-acting and well-tolerated by most people. You should see results in three to seven days. Thus, if you know you will get exposure to an allergen, you should use the stabilizers before then.
Other possible treatments include NSAIDs, immunotherapy, and the use of immunosuppressive agents.
If you exhibit symptoms similar to those listed under the above eye allergies, be sure to consult a licensed eye doctor for a complete eye exam.
Once you understand the cause of the reaction, you can work towards managing your symptoms.