Eye allergies, known as allergic conjunctivitis, occurs when the conjunctiva (a clear membrane that covers the eyeball) getsall kinds of messed up irritated by an allergen. Allergens are harmless substances that can potentially trigger an overreaction in the immune system, causing your body to produce antibodies called immunoglobulin (IgE). Although it might sound kind of goblin-y, immunoglobulin travels to cells to release chemicals that can cause watery, itchy, red, or swollen eyes.Ew. Most of us have experienced eye allergies at some point, but when is it time to throw in the towel and see an eye care professional? Can your allergies be prevented, or are you doomed for life? Read on to find out.
Just like the the presents you’ll receive during the holidays, not all eye allergies are created equal. The two most common types of eye allergies are seasonal (SAC) and perennial (PAC). Seasonal and perennial allergies are both classified as Type 1,meaning they have an immediate hypersensitivity reaction. For some unfortunate souls, seasonal allergies might cause chronic irritation. Perennial (PAC) allergies are constant, hence the name, and household allergens are usually the culprit (think dust mites, animal dander, etc.). Seasonal pollen can also make perennial allergies worse, so hold ontoyour butts your allergy meds.
Another type of eye allergy is known asvernal keratoconjunctivitis (obviously whoever named these conditions was desperate to win a game of Scrabble). Unfortunately, this allergy is chronic and the symptoms are a bit more serious than SAC or PAC. Vernal keratoconjunctivitis mostly occurs in boys and young men, with 75% of patients also having eczema or asthma, and is caused by a hypersensitivity to airborne-allergens. Atopic keratoconjunctivitis tends to affect The Olds older patients, particularly men with a history of allergic dermatitis. Symptoms of this condition are similar to vernal keratoconjunctivitis, and if left untreated, can result in scarring of the cornea and its membrane.
Contact conjunctivitis is caused by cosmetics, eyedrops, chemicals, and evencontact lenses when allergens bind to the surface of the lens. I once experienced this after my eye came into contact with a new brand of eyedrop and it felt like I had a piece of corn stuck in my eyeball. Not a fan.
Symptoms of eye allergies can vary widely, depending on the cause. Seasonal allergies, for example, can cause red, itchy and watery eyes as they become irritated by whatever’s floating in the air. Patients with seasonal allergies (SAC) might also have chronic dark circles under their eyes and puffy eyelids. Perennial allergy (PAC) sufferers have similar symptoms, but they tend to be milder.Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis and atopic keratoconjunctivitis causes itching as well as significant tearing/mucus, a foreign body sensation in the eye, and aversion to light. If left untreated, both types can impair vision.
Obviously the first line of defense against seasonal or perennial eye allergies is to avoid the allergens that trigger the symptoms in the first place. Depending on the cause, this could require staying indoors when the pollen count is high, closing the windows, wearing sunglasses outside, etc. Perennial allergy sufferers should limit exposure to dust mites by using “mite-proof” bedding, wash their sheets frequently, use dehumidifiers, and mop floors instead of sweeping. If you’re allergic to animals, wash your hands and clothes after a petting session. Over-the-counter medicine can provide short term relief in some cases, including eye drops and oralantihistamines. Bear in mind, both non-prescription eye drops and oral medications can sometimes worsen symptoms over time.Other options include prescription eye drops, antihistamine eye drops, mast cell stabilizer eye drops (that prevent the release of histamine and other substances that cause allergy symptoms), topical steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and more. Remember, any treatment of eye allergies should be discussed with your eye doctor.
If you suspect that you are suffering from a type of eye allergy, you’re not alone. Approximately 20% of the population is suffering right alongside you, most commonly from environmental allergies! According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), the most common culprits are ragweed, mold spores, grass and tree pollen. If your allergies are chronic and are interfering with your everyday life, schedule an appointment today and find some much needed relief.