Allergic conjunctivitis is a type of eye allergy. There are two major varieties of the condition that each has its own approximate length.
The first is seasonal conjunctivitis, which comes and goes with seasonal allergies. This conjunctivitis is usually caused by outdoor allergens, including pollen and grass. Spring and summer are the most common times people experience allergic conjunctivitis. Fall cases are less common.
The exact season when you get your allergic conjunctivitis will be different in each person. How long your symptoms last will be based on how long the allergens are present in high amounts.
Without treatment, your symptoms could last the entire time that your critical allergen is present — which can vary greatly.
If your seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is “simple” — the most common kind — then treatment will cure your mild symptoms quickly. You can expect to see signs of improvement within a few days to weeks after starting antihistamine drops, for example.
But there are also more severe types of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis — like vernal conjunctivitis, which is worse in the fall. This condition is harder to treat and may last longer than other kinds of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.
The second major kind of allergic conjunctivitis is the perennial kind — a year-round version of the allergy. Symptoms are usually triggered by indoor irritants like dust, animal dander, and mold spores.
Symptoms of this type can flare up at any time of year, but particularly when there are more allergens in the air and near your eyes. They’ll go away faster — and stay away longer — the sooner these allergens are cleaned from your eyes and environment.
What is allergic conjunctivitis?
Allergic conjunctivitis is inflammation in a tissue covering the inside of your eyelids and the whites of your eyes — called the conjunctiva. One of the functions of the conjunctiva is to keep your eye moist.
The condition is caused by your body responding to allergens in your eye. Approximately 40% of the population experience some symptoms, but most aren’t severe enough for people to seek medical treatment. You’re likely to first see your symptoms before the age of twenty.
There are rarely any long-term consequences to your vision from allergic conjunctivitis. The condition is likely to reoccur each time you’re exposed to allergens, but you may also grow out of it in time. Cases are more frequent in hot and humid climates.
Allergic conjunctivitis is commonly confused with pink eye, which is highly contagious conjunctivitis caused by viruses and bacteria. Allergic conjunctivitis isn’t contagious.
How is allergic conjunctivitis diagnosed?
Your doctor will observe your symptoms and perform an eye exam to diagnose your allergic conjunctivitis. In some cases, you can take blood and skin tests to figure out exactly which allergen is triggering your body’s response.
What are the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis?
Symptoms will usually affect both of your eyes. They can range from mild to severe and include:
- Intense itching — the most common symptom
- Red eyes
- Watery or white stringy mucus discharge
- Swollen eyelids
- Burning feeling
- The feeling of dirt or another small particle trapped beneath your eyelid
You might also have more traditional allergy symptoms along with these eye-related symptoms including a runny nose and sneezing.
There are additional symptoms patients may experience as secondary related issues, such as increased feelings of tiredness and distraction.
Allergic conjunctivitis is also more frequently seen in people with asthma.
How can you treat allergic conjunctivitis?
The treatment for allergic conjunctivitis will depend on how severe your symptoms are. Possible treatments include:
- Saline drops — to wash out your eye
- A cold compress — to soothe the itch
- Antihistamine drops — to counteract your body’s natural allergic response
- Prescription treatments — mostly short-term steroid prescriptions since lengthy use of steroids can cause long-term eye problems
How can you prevent allergic conjunctivitis?
Sometimes the best treatment for eye allergies is to limit how often they occur. This involves taking these steps to keep your eyes clean and allergen-free:
- Limit exposure to your particular allergens
- Wash your face after being outside, near dust, or other allergen exposures
- Remove your contact lenses when you’re more likely to get symptoms
- Keep your hands clean with soap and water — since you can’t always avoid touching your eyes
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes
- Keep your pets off of your pillow and away from your bedding
- Keep your windows closed at the height of your seasonal allergies
- Avoid mascara and other types of eye make-up
You should talk to your doctor if your symptoms become too severe or begin to interfere with your daily life.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Baab, S., Le, P. H., Kinzer, E. E. StatPearls, "Allergic Conjunctivitis." StatPearls Publishing. 2021.
Community Eye Health Journal: "Allergic conjunctivitis."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Allergic Conjunctivitis."
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