Allergic Eye Disease
Eye allergies, called allergic conjunctivitis, are a common condition that occurs when the eyes react to something that irritates them (called an allergen). The eyes produce a substance called histamine to fight off the allergen. As a result, the eyelids and conjunctiva — the thin, filmy membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and the white part of your eye (sclera) — become red, swollen and itchy, with tearing and burning. Unlike bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis is not spread from person to person.
People who suffer from eye allergies usually (though not always) have nasal allergies as well, with an itchy, stuffy nose and sneezing. It is usually a temporary (acute) condition associated with seasonal allergies. However, in other cases, eye allergies can develop from exposure to other environmental triggers, such as pet dander, dust, smoke, perfumes, or even foods. If the exposure is ongoing, the allergies can be more severe, with significant burning and itching and even sensitivity to light.
The most common eye allergy symptoms include:
• Red, swollen or itchy eyes
• Burning or tearing of the eyes
• Sensitivity to light
If accompanied by nasal allergies, you may also experience a stuffy, itchy nose and sneezing, as well as a headache, an itchy or sore throat or coughing. Most eye allergies can be treated by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
Treating eye allergies with eyedrops and medicine
Artificial tear drops can help relieve eye allergies temporarily by washing allergens from the eye. They also relieve dry, irritated eyes by adding moisture. These drops, available without a prescription, can be used as often as you need them.
Decongestants (with or without antihistamines)
Decongestants reduce redness in the eyes from allergies. They are available as over-the-counter eyedrops. They may be sold simply as a decongestant or as a decongestant with an antihistamine, which relieves eye itchiness. These types of eyedrops should not be used for more than two to three days, as longer-term use actually increases your irritating symptoms.
Oral antihistamines may be somewhat helpful in relieving itchy eyes; however, they can make eyes dry and even worsen eye allergy symptoms.
Eyedrops with both an antihistamine to relieve itchiness and a mast-cell stabilizer help prevent eye allergies. They are used twice a day to relieve itching, redness, tearing and burning.
Steroid eye drops can help treat chronic and severe eye allergy symptoms such as itching, redness and swelling.
If symptoms are not controlled by allergen avoidance, eyedrops or medicine, immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be an option for relieving eye allergies. With immunotherapy, shots containing tiny amounts of the allergen are given, with the dose gradually increasing over time, to help your body become immune to the allergens.
Your doctor can help determine which treatments are best for you.