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It’s normal to experience dry eyes on occasion. But if symptoms like redness, burning, and itchiness persist or come and go depending on the season, you may have allergic conjunctivitis. This condition occurs when your eyes are exposed to an allergen like pet dander and then become inflamed. 

Though allergic conjunctivitis is not usually serious and can be treated with over-the-counter medications, the symptoms can be very distracting. Consulting an allergist at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center is the best way to determine which allergens are causing your discomfort. Your allergist will then work with you to create a comprehensive treatment plan.

To get started with our allergy experts today, call Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center at 704-372-7900 or contact us online.

Contents:

What Is Allergic Conjunctivitis?

Often referred to as pink eye, conjunctivitis is an eye inflammation that affects a thin, protective membrane of the eye called the conjunctiva. Many people are familiar with bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, which are very contagious infections that cause symptoms like redness, burning, itchiness, and swollen eyelids. 

However, few know that similar symptoms can be caused by a sensitivity to pollen, dust mites, animals, and mold spores. This type of inflammation is called allergic conjunctivitis and, unlike bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, it isn’t contagious. In fact, allergic conjunctivitis is a fairly common condition that affects 40% of the population.          

Types of Allergic Conjunctivitis

Acute Allergic Conjunctivitis

Acute allergic conjunctivitis comes on suddenly after a person has been exposed to an allergen like dog dander or mold. Though symptoms can be severe, they normally go away within 24 hours. 

Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC)

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis causes persistent symptoms during a particular pollen season. Depending on where you live, you may experience a reaction to tree pollens in the spring, grass pollens in the summer, and weed pollens in late summer and fall. 

Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis (PAC)

Perennial allergic conjunctivitis is a chronic eye condition typically caused by indoor allergens like food, dust, and dander. 

Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis 

Allergic conjunctivitis often causes redness, watery discharge, and burning and itching of both eyes. Other symptoms can include sensitivity to light and swelling of the eyelids. The symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis are very similar to bacterial and viral pink eye. However, there are important distinctions. 

Since viral pink eye is caused by an infection that spreads from the nose, eye symptoms are typically accompanied by an upper respiratory infection or cold. Comparatively, bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by the same bacteria that cause strep and staph infections, like Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. A telltale sign of bacterial pink eye is thick, yellow-green discharge. 

Causes & Risk Factors

Allergic conjunctivitis is a reaction that occurs when an allergen like pollen comes in contact with your eye. Your body perceives the allergen as a threat and produces chemicals called histamines to protect you. This immune response causes redness, itchiness, and other symptoms. 

Besides tree and grass pollen, allergic conjunctivitis can also be triggered by:

  • Household dust and dirt
  • Cosmetics and soaps
  • Mold spores
  • Smoke and fumes
  • Chemicals (chlorine, household cleaners, perfumes)

People with a history of other allergic conditions such as eczema, seasonal allergies, or a specific allergy are more likely to develop allergic conjunctivitis. This condition is also more likely to develop when pollen counts are high.  

How Is Allergic Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?

Doctors recognize allergic conjunctivitis by its typical symptoms and appearance. If you are suffering from allergic pink eye, an eye examination will likely reveal redness in the white of your eye and small bumps inside your eyelids. An eye examination will also help your doctor rule out bacterial and viral conjunctivitis. 

There is no specific diagnostic tool for this condition. However, after reviewing your allergy history, your doctor may need to learn more about what is causing your symptoms. To do so, he or she may order one of the following tests:

  • An allergy skin test lightly punctures an allergen into the skin’s surface. This allows your doctor to monitor your skin for a reaction such as swelling or redness. 
  • A blood test detects the presence of antibodies that fight specific allergens. 

How Is Allergic Conjunctivitis Treated?

There are various ways to treat the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, including:

Home Care

In most cases, allergic conjunctivitis can be addressed at home. To alleviate itchiness, apply a cold compress to your eyes. You may also use artificial tears or antihistamine drops. You must avoid rubbing your eyes as this can make symptoms worse. 

Allergic conjunctivitis symptoms typically go away once you are no longer exposed to the allergen. To limit exposure, you may consider:

  • Keeping windows closed during peak allergy season
  • Using an air purifier and vacuum with an allergy and asthma-friendly filter
  • Purchasing allergen covers for pillows, duvets, and comforters
  • Keeping pets out of the bedroom
  • Wearing sunglasses to keep allergens out of your eyes

An allergist can determine which allergens are causing your allergic conjunctivitis. This will help you create an appropriate action plan. If, for instance, your allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by ragweed pollen, you may close your windows during the fall. Or, if your condition is triggered by a certain household cleaner, you may stop using that chemical.  

Medications 

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to visit a doctor. Your doctor will likely recommend: 

  • Antihistamine eye drops to reduce itchiness
  • Vasoconstrictor eye drops to shrink congested blood vessels  
  • Steroid eye drops to mitigate severe allergic reactions 
  • Oral antihistamines 
  • Allergy shots 

Many of these medications can be purchased over-the-counter. However, some require a prescription. 

Is Allergic Conjunctivitis Serious?

In most cases, allergic conjunctivitis is not serious. The condition typically resolves itself without specific treatment when contact with the allergen has been minimized. However, if you are experiencing symptoms like intense eye pain, extreme redness, severe sensitivity to light, or difficulty seeing, you should consult a doctor immediately. In rare cases, allergic conjunctivitis can damage a person’s vision if left untreated.  

How Long Does Allergic Conjunctivitis Last?

Allergic conjunctivitis will normally clear up once the irritant is reduced. That means as long as you are exposed to an allergen like pet dander or ragweed, you will continue experiencing symptoms. Over-the-counter or prescription medications can lessen irritation, making you more comfortable during peak allergy seasons. An allergist can also create a systematic treatment program to help you avoid future symptoms.     

Is Allergic Conjunctivitis Contagious? 

No—unlike bacterial or viral pink eye, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.

Get Relief With Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center

Though allergic conjunctivitis is not inherently dangerous, persistent itchiness and burning can affect quality of life. At Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center, we understand how unbearable these symptoms can be. Fortunately, our board-certified medical professionals can determine which allergens are causing your discomfort. They will then help you develop a systematic treatment program.  

Are you ready for relief from allergic conjunctivitis? Contact our team of trained allergists by calling 704-372-7900, and set up an appointment today.