What are Eye Allergies?

Eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis, refer to a condition that occurs when the immune system reacts to an allergen. When these allergens affect the eyes, itching, tearing, and redness can occur. Although eye allergies can develop in the absence of other symptoms, they are sometimes accompanied by nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing. Typically, eye allergies can cause eye irritation, but are generally harmless and permanent vision is generally not threatened.

Frequently, people who have allergies to pollens and grasses are most likely to experience eye allergies. In addition, dust mites and pet dander can also provoke symptoms, as can perfumes, cigarette smoke, and molds. Sometimes, the physician might recommend antihistamines to not only relieve eye allergies, but to relieve nasal symptoms of allergies as well. Although antihistamines are effective for eye tearing and itching, they might produce dry eye, and even worsen the condition.

When eye allergies are accompanied by pain, light sensitivity, and eye discharge, the doctor needs to be notified. These symptoms indicate an eye infection and will need treatment. Generally, treatment for eye infections include either antibiotic eye ointments or drops, or oral antibiotics. If the eye infection is related to a systemic bacterial infection, treatment of choice is typically oral antibiotics.

Eye infections in children are common and very contagious. Parents should not assume that their child's eye problems and symptoms are the result of eye allergies until the physician determines the cause. If the eye problems are infectious in nature, antibiotics might be in order, however, when eye allergies are suspected, steps to treat the allergy are indicated.

If eye discharge and infection are present in one eye, they can quickly spread to the other. People need to make sure they do not touch their eyes and ensure they frequently wash their hands with hot, soapy water. Also, when eye drops are prescribed, the health care provider should explain that the tip of the eye drop bottle should never touch the eye. Instead, the bottle should be held just low enough to get a good aim into the eye, but high enough as to not touch the eye, which could re-introduce bacteria into the eye.

Occasionally, the physician will refer the patient to an allergist to rule out causes of allergies of the eye. The allergist can run a battery of tests to determine which offending allergens are affecting the eyes, allowing him to devise an appropriate treatment plan. Many times, the patient will be surprised to learn that he has an allergy to many different allergens, but relieved to know that they can all be successfully treated.


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