Allergic conjunctivitis or pink eye, occurs when a person’s eyes come into contact with an allergen, or a substance that causes the immune system to overreact. Once it does, the body releases histamine and other substances through mast cells, causing the blood vessels to dilate or expand. This irritates the nerve endings, resulting to an increased secretion of tears.
Types of Allergic Conjunctivitis
- Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis
This is a type that results from contact with pollen, with other symptoms including sneezing, itchy, blocked, or runny nose, and itchy watery eyes. This is also known as hay fever, and it usually happens during the spring and summer months.
- Contact Conjunctivitis
This type is also known as contact dermatoconjunctivitis, which is usually caused by cosmetics, eye drops, or other chemicals that irritate the conjunctiva. Some people are sensitive to other specific substances. The symptoms usually develop 2 to 4 days after contact with the substance.
- Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis
People who wear contact lenses are more prone to getting this type of conjunctivitis. Contact lenses generally cause discomfort, and this feeling can progress and worsen, causing the eyes to become red. This may also occur when a person uses hard contact lenses after eye surgery. Additionally, poor hygiene especially when handling contact lenses and solutions contribute to eye infection.
- Perennial Conjunctivitis
This type of conjunctivitis lasts all year. It results from an allergy to dust mites or microscopic insect-like creatures that dwell in bedding, upholstery, and carpets. These organisms eat skin cells that people shed and they love warm, humid environments.
Both eyes are affected when a person has allergic conjunctivitis. The symptoms may appear quickly soon after the eyes come into contact with the allergen. Sometimes even the eyedrops cause a reaction and the symptoms appear after 2-4 days.
- Red or pink eyes (the eyes become irritated as the capillaries or small blood vessels widen in the conjunctiva
- Pain on both eyes (if a person experiences pain and his or her vision is affected, see a doctor immediately.)
- Swollen eyelids
- Soreness (almost like burning)
The following allergens usually cause allergic conjunctivitis:
- pollen, as in hay fever
- animal fur
- eye drops
- dust mites
Doctors diagnose allergic conjunctivitis by examining the patient’s eyes. They may also need to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Painful eyes, sensitivity to light or photophobia, vision problems, and very red eyes warrant an immediate visit to the doctor as they may indicate a serious condition.
Other conditions that cause redness of the eyes include:
- Infective conjunctivitis – caused by a bacteria or a virus. It can also be associated with the herpes virus, and may indicate a sexually transmitted infection.
- Acute glaucoma – a condition in which the eyes feel heavy as if there’s pressure. This may even cause incurable vision loss.
- Keratitis – a condition in which the cornea becomes inflamed and occasionally ulcerated. This could result in permanent vision loss.
- Iritis – an inflammation of the iris. If left untreated, the iris may stick to the lens, preventing vital fluid drainage from the pupil and the result would be permanent loss of vision.
Allergic Conjunctivitis Treatment and Prevention
- Avoid allergens by keeping the house clean
- Use doctor-recommended artificial tears or eye drops to help dilute and remove allergens
- Avoid wearing contact lenses until symptoms subside
- Refrain from rubbing the eyes as it makes the inflammation worse
- Apply cold compresses—hold a pad of cotton soaked in cold water on the eyelid to sooth the eyes
- Other treatment includes antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, and occasionally, corticosteroids
Important Note: All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.