For many people who wear contact lenses, itchy eyes are a regular occurrence. However, if you’re suffering from persistently red, watery or itchy eyes even without your contacts on, you might have eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis. Your eye doctor from Progressive Eyecare sheds light on this type of allergy and how you can best manage it.
Allergies are among the leading chronic illnesses in the country, with 40% of Americans experiencing allergic conjunctivitis. This type of allergy affects the conjunctiva of the eye, which is the clear mucous membrane that covers the surface of the eye known as the sclera, and the inside of the eyelids.
Allergic conjunctivitis develops due to the enhanced response of the immune system to otherwise harmless stimuli, such as dust or pollen. The allergic reaction prompts your immune system to release a chemical called histamine, a substance that eliminates allergens. Histamines make your eyes itchy or watery in an effort to rid your body of the allergens. Some antihistamines can be bought without a prescription, but it’s best to consult your eye doctor regarding which medication is most suitable for your condition.
Primary Types of Allergic Conjunctivitis
The different types of eye allergies may seem indistinguishable due to commonly shared or overlapping symptoms, but they do have slight nuances. Here are the primary types of allergic conjunctivitis.
1. Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC)
This is the most common type of eye allergy, characterized by itching, redness, a burning sensation and watery eyes. These symptoms are often accompanied by nasal congestion, a runny nose and sneezing. Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis flares up during summer, spring or fall, depending on the types of pollen present.
Patients with SAC may have allergic shiners or chronic dark circles under their eyes. If you have this type of eye allergy, you may experience puffy eyelids and sensitivity to light, for which eyeglasses with special coating or transition lenses might offer some relief.
2. Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis (PAC)
Patients with PAC experience the same symptoms as SAC, but at a milder degree. However, allergic reactions occur all year round and are triggered not by pollen but by allergens such as mold, dust mites, and tobacco smoke. Symptoms clear up when the allergens are removed. PAC can affect either or both eyes. This type of allergic conjunctivitis is not infectious.
3. Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis
SAC and PAC symptoms are irritating, but typically not dangerous. Vernal keratoconjunctivitis, on the other hand, is far more severe, as it can impair vision if left unchecked by an optometrist. Vernal keratoconjunctivitis patients are mostly boys and young male adolescents. It is unclear as to why the condition affects males more than females. 75% of vernal keratoconjunctivitis patients also suffer from eczema or asthma.
Symptoms of this particular eye allergy include itching sensation, extremely watery eyes, thick mucolytic discharge, light sensitivity and the feeling of a foreign object stuck in the eye, also known as foreign body sensation.
4. Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis
Like vernal keratoconjunctivitis, your eye exams expert describes atopic keratoconjunctivitis as a disease that is correlated with atopic dermatitis and other skin allergies. This is mainly due to a compromised immune system. The symptoms involve severe itching, burning, eye redness and excessive production of thick mucus that causes the eyelids to stick together.
You should consult your eye specialist if you experience any of these symptoms. Undiagnosed and untreated atopic keratoconjunctivitis may cause corneal scarring, resulting in blurred vision.
5. Contact Allergic Conjunctivitis
Whether corrective or cosmetic, contact lenses can cause eye allergies, characterized by itching, redness, excessive tearing and discomfort. Remove your lenses and wear eyeglasses instead until the symptoms subside, or until you can consult your optometrist for alternatives.
If contact lenses are necessary, you don’t have to do away with them entirely. Your optometrist may suggest switching to another brand of contacts or trying a different cleaning solution.
6. Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis
This is a more severe form of contact allergic conjunctivitis, characterized by the development of fluid sacs, known as papules, on the upper lining of the inner eyelid. The symptoms manifest as itching, puffiness of the eyelids, copious amounts of eye discharge, blurred vision and the sensation that a foreign body is lodged in your eye. With this type of eye allergy, it is best to wear eyeglasses instead of contacts.
Allergic Conjunctivitis Management
Seasonal and chronic eye allergies can primarily be managed by limiting your exposure to allergens. This entails staying indoors when it’s windy outside and installing efficient exhaust systems to prevent pollen from entering your house. If you must go outside, wear protective eye gear like sunglasses that offer protection against dust particles and other eye irritants.
Practice basic eye care and hygiene by washing your hands after handling pets. Allergens are mostly airborne, making them hard to avoid. At the onset of allergic reactions, you may purchase over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines and eye drops for temporary relief.
How is Allergic Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?
If over-the-counter remedies are ineffective, schedule an appointment with your eye care specialist. During the consultation, you will undergo various eye exams that will assess what type of eye allergy you have. Depending on the diagnosis, you will receive instructions and a list of medications you could take to manage your condition.
Keep in mind that allergies are a type of chronic illness, and illnesses have to be addressed. You don’t have to tolerate allergic conjunctivitis. For excellent eye care or to see our selection of eyeglasses, you may call Progressive Eyecare at (702) 744-8005, (702) 723-4888, or (702) 357-8202. We serve Summerlin, Henderson and North Las Vegas, NV.