Eye Allergies

 

Eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis, occur when the protective outer covering of the eye and eyelid, called the conjunctiva, becomes swollen and inflamed due to allergens or irritants.

What are eye allergy symptoms?

When you have eye allergies, the mast cells lining the conjunctiva release histamine when exposed to allergens and irritants. Those allergens and irritants cause the conjunctiva to swell and symptoms of eye allergies to occur.

Common symptoms include:

  • red, irritated, teary and itchy eyes
  • burning
  • eyelid swelling
  • blurred vision
  • sensitivity to light.

Hot, dry weather dries out the eyes and makes eye allergy symptoms worse.

What can cause eye allergies?

Allergens and irritants can cause allergic conjunctivitis.

Environmental triggers of eye allergies include:

  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander

Irritants that cause eye allergies include:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Cosmetics
  • Perfume
  • Contact lenses
  • Contact lens solution
Ask the Allergist: Eyes Wide Open on Dry Eye

What can I do to address eye swelling?

Eye puffiness or swelling is a common symptom of allergic conjunctivitis, along with itchy, red eyes, a burning sensation and a clear, watery discharge.

During an allergic reaction, white blood cells attach to protective mast cells in the mucus membranes of the eyes and nasal passages, and fluid builds up. Tiny blood vessels in and around the eyes leak, leading to inflammation and swelling in surrounding tissues and the watery discharge. Rubbing or scratching the eyes only makes it worse – and could lead to infection.

Eye swelling often occurs at night. One reason this happens is exposure to allergens in the bedroom – primarily dust mites and/or pet dander.

What causes the dark, blue-tinted circles under the eyes?

This is called the “allergic shiner” – when there’s swelling of tissue and fluid buildup in and around the eyes, blood starts to pool, darkening the skin and creating dark circles. The “allergic shiner” is also a common sign of environmental allergies to pollen, dust mites or pet dander, and it can also indicate food allergy.

Photo of a close up of a red eye

What can you do for eye allergy treatment and relief?

The best thing to do is to totally avoid whatever eye allergens and irritants bother your eyes. However, this is hard since these triggers are airborne.

Here are some tips to keep your eyes clear, clean and comfortable:

  • Use a preservative-free eye wash or artificial tears to moisten dry, irritated eyes and help wash out allergens and irritants.
  • Put a damp washcloth in the freezer for a few minutes and then apply it to your eyelids to reduce itching and swelling.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes. Wash your hands and face after being outside on high pollen and mold days.

What are some eye allergy medications?

First, talk with your doctor about developing an allergy treatment plan that addresses nasal, respiratory and eye symptoms.

Over-the-counter and prescription eyedrops and oral medications can also be used to treat eye allergies.

Over-the-counter
Oral antihistamines can help relieve itchy eyes, but they may also dry out the eyes. Decongestant eyedrops (with or without antihistamines) can help reduce eye redness associated with allergies, but they should not be used for more than three days or they may worsen irritation.

Prescription
Antihistamine eyedrops can reduce eye swelling, itching and redness associated with allergies. Antihistamine drops combined with a mast cell stabilizer provide relief for itching, redness and burning sensation and can also prevent symptoms.

For severe eye allergies, you may be prescribed mild corticosteroid drops – these should only be used for conjunctivitis caused by allergy, not bacterial infections. Eye allergies cause clear, watery discharges while bacterial infections cause yellow or greenish secretions.

Is it pink eye or allergies?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between allergic conjunctivitis and pink eye, a conjunctivitis caused by a virus or bacteria. Eye allergy tends to clear secretions and itching, while bacterial infections causing pink eye usually involve yellow or greenish discharge. Most conjunctivitis is viral rather bacterial and resolves well after applying warm compresses. If only one eye is affected, take care to not touch or apply anything to the unaffected eye after touching the eye with the issue.

Never put corticosteroid drops into your eyes without having a comprehensive eye exam. It is very difficult to tell the difference between conjunctivitis caused by allergy or conjunctivitis caused by bacteria; corticosteroids can be dangerous with certain bacterial diseases. Eye allergy tends to cause clear secretions and itching, while bacterial infections usually involve yellow or greenish secretions.

If you suspect that you have eye allergies visit a healthcare professional. Preventing and treating eye symptoms may be part of your overall treatment plan.

Photo of a woman putting eye drops in her eye

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