What is Allergic Conjunctivitis?
By: Dr. Sean W. Smolenyak, Albemarle Eye Center
The conjunctiva is the covering over the eye and along the inside lining of the eyelids. There are many things that can affect the health or status of the conjunctiva with allergies being one of the most common.
Allergic conjunctivitis is an inflammatory response to an allergen. The common signs and symptoms can include itching, tearing, redness, swelling of the eye and eyelids, mild discharge, and mild-to-moderate discomfort. Some patients think they have “pink eye” though there is no viral or bacterial infection present.
Typically, there are two kinds of allergic conjunctivitis: seasonal and perennial. Seasonal is usually associated with exposure to pollens in the spring or fall months. Perennial tends to persist throughout the year and is often due to exposure to indoor allergens from animals, dust, or mold spores.
There are numerous treatments available to help manage allergic conjunctivitis. Obviously, reducing exposure to the offending allergen is a good first step. However, in some cases, that is not easily done nor is complete avoidance always possible. Simple, but often overlooked remedies, include cold compresses and frequent washing of hands and face along with towels and sheets. This helps clear the allergens from multiple surfaces preventing repeated exposure.
In many cases, these efforts are not enough. There are several over-the-counter (OTC) eyedrops to help alleviate the signs and symptoms. Many of these were available only by prescription but have recently been reclassified. When the OTC products prove insufficient, prescription medications are a logical next step. These either tend to more potent versions of the OTC products or different classes of medicine completely. If the allergic reaction is significant enough (and particularly when it involves the skin around the eye), oral OTC or prescription medicines can also be employed.
When allergic conjunctivitis episodes occur often enough, it is often necessary to involve an allergist to perform allergy testing and work towards preventing further reactions.
Allergic conjunctivitis is a very common inflammatory condition. While there are various home remedies and OTC products, some patients will need to seek prescription treatment from their trusted eyecare provider.