What Is Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis?

Jillian O Keeffe
Jillian O Keeffe

One of the eye conditions attributable to allergy, vernal keratoconjunctivitis most often occurs only at a certain time of the year. It is an inflammation of the lining of the eye that results in bumps on the eyelid and symptoms such as itchy eyes and an aversion to light. Boys and young men are the most likely to suffer from the condition, although vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a rare disease. There is no cure, but some treatments can alleviate symptoms.


Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the membrane that lines the eyes and covers most of the eyeball. Kerato refers to the cornea of the eye, which is the central portion of the eyeball that is see-through and that covers the colored part of the eye and the pupil so light enters the eye. Vernal then refers to springtime, which can be a season when vernal keratoconjunctivitis flares up in affected people. Summer is another period where the condition can become more common. People in countries that are dry with warm weather are more likely to suffer from the allergy.

Hard, raised lumps on the top eyelid are one of the symptoms of vernal keratoconjunctivitis. The conjunctival membrane can also become swollen. Serious inflammations of the conjunctiva can even cause ulcers on the corneal surface of the eye. A minority of sufferers can go on to develop severe eye conditions like cataracts or glaucoma.

Sufferers of the condition can find that their eyes are extremely itchy. The eyes can also produce excessive mucus, and the affected person can become extremely sensitive to light. As the condition is an allergic response to environmental allergens, it does not resolve itself unless the allergen goes away or the person receives medication to treat it.

The cause of vernal keratoconjunctivitis is not well known, although scientists know that it is a form of allergy. The immune system of affected people produces an inappropriately high response to a particular allergen, and it is this undesirable action that causes the symptoms of the disease. Many people with the condition have other allergies or family members with allergies, so genes or early environment may play a role. Most often, the condition affects male children and young male adults, although the disease can disappear at puberty or before the age of 20 years old.

Treatment for vernal keratoconjunctivitis generally involves calming the hypersensitive immune responses that cause the symptoms. Mast cell stabilizers is one group of medications that can offer temporary relief to sufferers, and steroids can also help. Steroid use in the long term can cause glaucoma, so they are not generally used for mild cases. No treatment can cure the condition, although it commonly resolves as the sufferer gets older.

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