Up to 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, and allergic reactions involving the eyes are a common complaint. Allergies are generally the body’s immune reaction in a sensitized individual to an allergen. Simply stated, this means that if you are allergic to a particular substance and then come into contact with it, you experience an allergic reaction such as red watery eyes, itching, and sneezing.
Many allergy symptoms are temporary and can be eliminated once contact with the offending irritant has ended. An increasing number of eye allergy cases are related to medications and contact lens wear. Other allergies that affect the eyes may be related to pet dander, exposure to chemicals, cosmetics, and even foods we eat. Touching or rubbing eyes after handling nail polish, soaps, certain foods, and chemicals may cause an allergic reaction. Some people have sensitivity to lip ‐ gloss and eye makeup.
The most common allergies are those related to pollen, particularly when the weather is warm and dry.
Symptoms may include itching, burning, redness, excessive tearing, stinging, and watery discharge. Eye allergy symptoms are not usually severe enough to require medical attention, but in some cases it is best to see your eye care professional. Allergies caused by the eye coming in contact with airborne allergens are commonly referred to as allergic conjunctivitis:
- Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC) : a seasonal allergy that occurs when airborne allergens such as ragweed come in contact with the eyes and cause redness, watering, and itching.
- Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis (PAC): PAC results mostly from exposure of the eye to constantly present household allergens such as animal dander and dust mite feces. Also referred to as chronic allergic conjunctivitis because it persists throughout the year , PAC affects an estimated 3% of the population; many patients with perennial allergic conjunctivitis will expe rience seasonal exacerbation. Seasonal exacerbations can occur in either spring or fall, as a result of incr eased exposure to mold and grass, but they appear most commonly in the fall when exposure to dust mites and fungal allergens is greatest.
- Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis : This is a chronic form of conjunctivitis which occurs most frequently during the spring and fall seasons. It can cause permanent damage to one's vision, making it one of the two most dangerous forms of allergic conjunctivitis.
- Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis : This is a form of allergic conjunctivitis which is associated with atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema) of the eyelids and face. The symptoms include those of seasonal and perennial allergic conjunctivitis, as well as a stringy or rope ‐ like discharge from the eyes and affects the outside edges of the cornea in older patients. If untreated, it can cause scarring in the eyes.
The types of chemical eye allergies can be categorized as either anaphylactoid (IgE mediated), which is a very sudden and intense reaction, or toxic/irritative reaction causing long ‐ term redness and itching. In the case of an anaphylactoid reaction, emergency medical treatment is necessary. Flush the eye(s) out with water and/or a saline solution (artificial tears) as soon as possible to help remove the offending substance.
Contact Lenses & Allergies
Even if you are generally a successful contact lens wearer, allergy season can make your contacts uncomfortable. An increasing number of eye allergy cases are related to contact lens wear. Airborne allergens can get on your lenses, causing discomfort. Allergens can also stimulate the excessive production of natural substances in the eyes, which bind to contacts and become uncomfortable. Ask your eye doctor about eye drops that can help relieve your symptoms and keep your contact lenses clean; certain drops can discolor or damage certain lenses, so always ask first before trying out a new brand. Stricter lens cleaning habits may be necessary to keep airborne and chemical allergens from entering your eyes when the contacts are handled. If you experience continued irritations from your contact lenses, you may need to change your lens prescription and in the short term stop wearing the lenses to allow your eyes to heal. Another alternative is daily disposable contact lenses, which are discarded nightly. Because they are replaced so frequently, these types of lenses are unlikely to develop irritating deposits that can build up over time and cause or heighten allergy ‐ related discomfort.
Eye drops can effectively reduce the symptoms, as can rain and cooler weather, which naturally decrease the amount of allergens in the air. Many allergy symptoms are temporary and can be eliminated once contact with the offending cosmetic or detergent has ended.
Do not use eye drops if you have glaucoma or if you currently have an eye infection. Eye drops can aggravate the condition and lengthen the healing time. It is best to consult a physician or specialist before treating any eye affliction with over the counter medications. While they may provide short ‐ term relief, it is not always wise to treat one's eyes without first knowing the exact cause of the allergic conjunctivitis, and the most effective and safest form of treatment. Misuse of OTCs can cause other eye ailments or damage which may or may not be reversible. Always consult the appropriate health care professional before treating yourself.
Advanced Eye Care of the Upstate, P.A. allergy specialists serving Greenville, South Carolina and more.