Eye allergies, or allergic conjunctivitis, are a common complaint worldwide, with over 50 million people suffering allergy symptoms in the United States alone. Red, watery, or itchy eyes are all triggered by common allergens such as dust and pollen. This can make day-to-day activities truly miserable for people prone to eye allergies. Fortunately, most sufferers are able to achieve eye allergy relief by promptly identifying and treating their condition.
Eye Allergy Causes
Eye allergies occur when the conjunctiva, the clear membrane covering the white part of the eye, comes in contact with an allergen. The conjunctiva, which helps keep the eyelid and eyeball moist, is composed of the same sensitive tissue as the inside lining of the nose.
There are two main types of eye allergies: seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) and perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC). If you suffer from SAC, you react to seasonal allergens such as tree, grass, or weed pollen. The severity of your allergies will vary depending on the season and how much time you spend outdoors. If you suffer from PAC, you react to indoor allergens such as dust mites, mold, cockroaches, and pet dander, and your symptoms will tend to last year round.
Other eye irritants such as dirt, smoke, chemicals, and chlorine can also trigger eye allergies.
Eye Allergy Symptoms
Patients most commonly seek eye allergy relief for itchy, red, or watery eyes. Eye allergies can also trigger a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, itchy nose, mouth, or throat, and sinus headaches.
Eye Allergy Diagnosis
Special tests are not necessary to diagnose an eye allergy; often, your ophthalmologist can identify the presence of an allergy based on your symptoms alone. However, he or she will want to determine whether you have an eye infection or allergic conjunctivitis in order to provide the proper treatment. This can be done with a standard eye exam, during which your doctor will use a small microscope called a slit lamp to check for eye allergy symptoms such as dilated blood vessels and swelling. In severe cases, your doctor might check your eyes for eosinophils, white blood cells that accumulate at the site of an allergic reaction.
Eye Allergy Relief
Your eye allergy treatment will depend on the severity of your reaction. The first step is to identify what allergen is triggering your symptoms. If you are reacting to outdoor allergens, try to stay indoors as much as possible during allergy season. If your eye allergies occur indoors, consider purchasing an air purifier and keeping your home as free as possible from pet dander, dust, and mold.
There are many drops and ointments that can provide eye allergy relief, as well as over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines targeted toward mild to moderate allergies. Artificial tears and cold compresses can also offer relief from red, watery, or itchy eyes. If your eye allergies are very severe, your doctor may prescribe allergy eye drops such as Patanol® or topical ophthalmic corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
Speak to an Eye Doctor
If you frequently experience red, itchy, or watery eyes and have trouble carrying out day-to-day activities, you may be suffering from eye allergies. Your ophthalmologist can diagnose the type of allergy you have, identify the allergens that trigger it, and help you find an appropriate method of eye allergy relief. To find a qualified ophthalmologist in your area, consult our eye care specialist listings.