What is ALLERGIC CONJUNCTIVITIS?
Allergic conjunctivitis or ocular allergy occurs when something you are allergic to irritates the conjunctiva. This is a delicate membrane that covers the eye and the inside of the eyelid. Allergic conjunctivitis refers to eye inflammation resulting from an allergic reaction to an allergen substance.
Allergic conjunctivitis starts when the immune system identifies an otherwise harmless substance as an allergen. This causes your immune system to overreact and produce antibodies called Immunoglobulin (IgE). These antibodies travel to mast cells and induce them to release chemicals called histamine, which translates to an allergic reaction. In this case, allergic reactions include eyes that water, itch, hurt or become red and swollen.
What are the Causes
You experience allergic conjunctivitis when your body tries to defend itself against a perceived threat. Some of the substances that cause a reaction are:
- Household dust
- Pollen from trees and grass
- Mold spores
- Animal dander
- Chemical scents
- Medicamentosa or contact lens solutions
What are the Symptoms
Red, itchy, watery, and burning eyes are common symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. You may also wake up in the morning with puffy eyes. These symptoms can occur alone or along with allergic rhinitis nasal symptoms. They typically appear shortly after exposure to the allergen.
How to Diagnose
Your doctor will examine your eyes and review your allergy history. Redness in the white of the eye and small bumps inside your eyelids are visible signs of conjunctivitis. Your doctor may also order one of the following tests:
- An allergy skin test exposes your skin to specific allergens and allows your doctor to examine your body’s reaction, which may include swelling and redness.
- A blood test may be recommended to see if your body is producing proteins (antibodies) to protect itself against specific allergens like mold or dust.
- A scraping of your conjunctival tissue may be taken to examine your white blood cells.
What is the Treatment
Treating allergic conjunctivitis at home involves a combination of prevention strategies and activities to ease your symptoms. To minimize your exposure to allergens:
- Close windows when the pollen count is high.
- Keep your home dust-free.
- Use an indoor air purifier.
- Avoid exposure to harsh chemicals, dyes and perfumes.
To ease your symptoms, avoid rubbing your eyes. Applying a cool compress to your eyes can also help reduce inflammation and itching.
In more troublesome cases, home care may not be adequate. You will need to see a doctor who might recommend:
- An oral or over-the-counter antihistamine to reduce or block histamine release.
- Anti-inflammatory and/or anti-inflammation eye drops.
- Eye drops to shrink congested blood vessels.
- Steroid eye drops (only in severe cases).
Completely avoiding the environmental factors that cause allergic conjunctivitis can be difficult. The best thing you can do is to limit your exposure to these triggers. For example, if you know that you are allergic to perfume or household dust, you can try to minimize your exposure by using scent-free soaps and detergents, or by installing an air purifier in the home.