Also called allergic conjunctivitis or ocular allergy, ocular allergy occurs when something that is allergic to irritates the conjunctiva. This is the delicate thin membrane that covers the inner surface of the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball.
Like all allergies, allergic conjunctivitis begins when the immune system identifies a normally harmless substance such as an allergen. This causes the immune system to react excessively producing antibodies called immunoglobulin (IgE).
These antibodies travel to the cells that release the chemicals that cause an allergic reaction. In this case, allergic reactions in the eyes with water, tearing, itching, wounds or redness and inflammation.
The most common causes of allergic conjunctivitis are seasonal allergens such as pollen and mold spores. People with seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) usually notice that their symptoms get worse when they go outdoors on days with high levels of pollen.
Indoor allergens, such as dust mites and pet dander can also cause eye allergies throughout the year.
If you suffer from this type of allergy, you may notice that the symptoms get worse during certain activities such as cleaning the house or brushing a pet.
The symptoms of eye allergies can be very annoying. However, they pose little threat to the eyes other than seeing them temporarily blurred. Unlike other conditions such as conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.
However, sometimes the redness of the eyes, itching, burning and even swelling may be caused by infections and other conditions that can be a threat to the eyesight.
Symptoms and diagnosis of ocular allergy
The symptoms that are related to an ocular allergy, are probably accompanied by the following eye problems.
Typical ocular allergy symptoms include:
- Crying eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Swelling of the eyelids
These symptoms can occur alone or in conjunction with the nasal symptoms of allergic rhinitis. They usually appear shortly after exposure to the allergen.
Symptoms derived from seasonal outdoor allergens tend to be worse than symptoms due to allergens such as dust mites or pet dander.
Symptoms can be reduced by taking allergy medications, such as antihistamines, which suppress the allergic reaction.
The first step towards relieving the annoying symptoms of ocular allergy is to make an adequate diagnosis. An immunologist allergist has the specialized training and experience to accurately determine the cause of the symptoms and identify the best method of treatment.
Treatment of allergy in the eyes
If it is the allergens that are causing the symptoms of eye allergy, avoiding them is the key to getting relief. It is advisable to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to reduce dust in the house or try to keep pets out of the room to reduce exposure to dandruff.
If seasonal allergens such as pollen and others are causing so much discomfort, here are some possible suggestions:
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to reduce the amount of allergen that is in the air and attacks the eyes.
- Wearing sunglasses can also help reduce the amount of allergens that fall on the eyes.
- Apply saline eye drops to the eyes after having been outdoors to wash allergens that may remain on the ocular mucosa.
Antihistamine pills and eye drops are often used for the short-term treatment of the symptoms of eye allergies. However, the prolonged use of some eye drops, in fact, can end up worsening the symptoms.
The allergist doctor may prescribe stronger medications if the symptoms are long lasting.
Ophthalmic drops with corticosteroids are effective, but often have side effects, even when used only for a short period. The use of this medication should be administered by an ophthalmologist, due to the risk of side effects, such as glaucoma (increased eye pressure), cataracts and infection.
Depending on what is causing the symptoms of eye allergies, immunotherapy, allergy shots, can be very effective in providing long-term resistance against the triggering allergens.