What is allergic conjunctivitis?

People with allergic conjunctivitis of the eyes usually have redness, swelling, pain, and itchiness.
People with allergic conjunctivitis of the eyes usually have redness, swelling, pain, and itchiness.

Allergic conjunctivitis, which can also be called eye allergies or pink eye, is a common problem. It’s estimated that more than 20% of people are affected by allergic conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis is a reaction that occurs when the outer lining of the eyeball, the conjunctiva, reacts to particles in the air that the person is allergic to. The conjunctiva is a thin tissue that helps keep your eye moist. When it becomes irritated or inflamed due to contact with an allergen, you can experience allergic conjunctivitis

Some common allergens that can trigger allergic conjunctivitis are pollen, dust, pet dander, or medications.

There are three main types of conjunctivitis: allergic, bacterial, and viral. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are quite infectious and can be passed from person to person. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious since it affects only people allergic to something around them.

Signs and symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis

People who experience allergic conjunctivitis usually have it in both eyes, not just one. Viral conjunctivitis may begin in just one eye, but it can spread to the other one. Those with bacterial conjunctivitis usually have it in only one eye, at least at first.

Knowing this, there are several other symptoms that you should be on the lookout for if you think you have allergic conjunctivitis.

Redness

One of the most common symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis is redness. Your eyes may appear pink or red as if they are bloodshot. The eyelid itself may also become red due to irritation.

Swelling

Another common symptom is swelling, both of the eyeball and the eyelid. In addition to turning red, the white of your eye may swell, which creates small bumps on the surface of your eyeball. Your eyelid may also become swollen and puffy.

Pain or itchiness

Eyes that are affected by allergic conjunctivitis become very itchy and may even be painful. Because of the itching, the eyes often become teary.

SLIDESHOW

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) Symptoms, Causes, Treatments See Slideshow

Causes of allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is an allergic reaction to something around you. Because people have a wide variety of allergies, there can be many causes of allergic conjunctivitis. However, there are some common groups of allergens that typically trigger watery, pink eyes.

Seasonal allergies

Many people experience seasonal allergies in the spring, summer, and fall. During this time, plants like trees, weeds, and grass are in full bloom. There is also pollen in the air from flowers, which may cause allergic reactions.

Irritants

There are also irritants that can cause redness and swelling, even if they are not technically an allergic reaction. These include:

  • Smoke
  • Chemicals
  • Dirt
  • Air pollution
  • Cosmetics
  • Medicines
  • Chlorine

These substances commonly cause conjunctivitis symptoms that may be bothersome.

Indoor allergies

People can also experience allergic conjunctivitis when they have a reaction to something in their home. Common indoor triggers include:

  • Animal saliva
  • Pet dander
  • Dust mites
  • Mold spores

When to see the doctor for allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis normally goes away once the trigger that caused it is removed. However, a pharmacist may help you select eye drops or an antihistamine to provide relief for your symptoms.

If your symptoms persist, you should visit your doctor. Your doctor can help determine the cause of your allergic conjunctivitis and discuss the best way to avoid triggers.

Diagnosis and tests for allergic conjunctivitis

To get an official diagnosis for allergic conjunctivitis, you need to see a doctor. Your doctor will ask you some basic questions about your health history, and then they will look at your eyes and take into consideration all of your symptoms.

Tests aren’t usually needed to diagnose allergic conjunctivitis. Your doctor should be able to recognize allergic conjunctivitis based on the appearance of your eyes and your symptoms.

Treatments for allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis usually clears up on its own once the allergen is removed. The best way to treat it is to avoid contact with the triggers that can cause it.

To relieve your symptoms, there are several home treatments that you can try. The first thing you can do is take an antihistamine. These medications help to stop allergy symptoms, including itchy, watery eyes.

You can also apply a cool compress over your eyes to reduce the swelling and itching. To do so, tilt your head back and close your eyes. Then place a cool, damp washcloth over your eyes. After this, use lubricating drops in your eyes to help keep them moist.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/9/2020
References
American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: "Allergic Conjunctivitis."

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Eye Allergies (Allergic Conjunctivitis)."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)."

Family Doctor: "Allergic Conjunctivitis."

Merck Manual: "Allergic Conjunctivitis."