What is an Ocular Allergy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An ocular allergy is an allergic reaction in or around the eye in a location like the conjunctiva or eyelid. Such allergies tend to be under diagnosed and under treated, even though patients can experience significant quality of life improvements by addressing ocular allergies. Commonly, people with this condition experience other allergies as well, such as allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, a common reaction to pollen seen in people all over the world. Treatment options can include medications and avoidance of allergens.

Eyes can get itchy, watery, and swollen during allergic reactions.
Eyes can get itchy, watery, and swollen during allergic reactions.

In a patient with an ocular allergy, exposure to allergens can cause swelling, redness, itching, and general discomfort. Patients may develop eye strain as a result of the irritation. Commonly, the ocular allergy is visible, as the conjunctiva reddens, the eyes water, and the eyelids puff up. Once the patient is no longer exposed to the allergen, the symptoms should start to resolve. Chronic inflammation as a result of consistent exposure can potentially cause more serious complications like eye infections.

Consistent exposure to ocular allergens can cause eye infections.
Consistent exposure to ocular allergens can cause eye infections.

The eyelid and structures of the eye are very sensitive. People can develop allergic reactions to particulates in the air, makeup, soaps, and contact lenses. Contact allergies of the eye, where people experience allergic reactions after touching their eyes, are also common; people may experience an ocular allergy after handling nuts or dairy, for example. Most commonly, ocular allergy occurs in the spring and fall, along with hay fever and other seasonal allergies, and the patient may experience other allergy symptoms along with irritated eyes.

Immediate relief of ocular allergy can be achieved with warm compresses and gentle eye rinses in many cases. This will flush the allergen out of the eye, if it is still present, and help reduce the inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs can be prescribed to bring down the swelling, and patients can also take allergy medications to prevent or limit allergic reactions. Avoidance of the allergen by switching to allergy-free makeup, avoiding the outdoors on days with high pollen counts, and so forth will also prevent ocular allergy flareups.

People with chronic eye irritation sometimes fail to seek treatment because they get used to it or think there are not treatment options available. In addition to being uncomfortable, this can also pose health risks, as the eyes are sensitive and are not designed to be in a state of constant inflammation. An ophthalmologist or allergy specialist can provide a patient with some treatment options for handling ocular allergy.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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