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Ocular Allergies

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Spring is here!  Unfortunately, for many of us, spring comes with seasonal allergies that leave our eyes red, puffy and itchy.  Since everyone is spending more time outdoors during this quarantine, we thought we would touch on eye allergies. 

What are eye allergies?

Eye allergies are known as allergic conjunctivitis.   They are an adverse immune response that occurs when the eye comes into contact with an irritant known as an allergen.  Allergens can include anything from dust, mold spores, dander, pollen or smoke. In some people, allergies may also be related to eczema and asthma.  Eye allergies can also be caused from a reaction to cosmetics, lotions, and eye drops that have preservatives in them.

When the immune system mistakes an allergen for a harmful substance, it releases chemicals called histamines to fight against the allergen, even though it is harmless. This leads to several (or many) bothersome symptoms, such as red, itchy, and watery eyes.  Some people will also experience nasal symptoms.

Symptoms of eye allergies may include:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Burning eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Red or pink eyes
  • Scaling around the eyes
  • Puffy or swollen eyelids, especially in the morning

Treatment options

The best treatment option is to avoid the allergen, but that is not always possible.  Other treatment options include:

  • Oral antihistamines
  • Eye drops, either prescribed or over the counter depending on severity
  • Wrap around sunglasses to prevent the allergan in the air from entering the eye
  • Cool washcloth to relieve itchiness
  • Oral Decongestants

What is the difference between eye allergies and pink eye?

The eye is covered by a thin membrane called the conjunctiva.  When this area becomes inflamed or irritated then conjunctivitis can occur.  Pink eye is the commonly known term for conjunctivitis which causes the eyes to become red, watery and itchy.

Pink eye and eye allergies cause very similar symptoms, but are two distinct eye conditions. Allergies are caused by an adverse immune system reaction to certain substances. However, pink eyes are caused by eye allergies as well as other factors.  Other factors that cause pink eye are bacterial infections, viral infections, chemicals, and contact lenses. Bacterial and viral eye infections cause a buildup of discharge on the eye overnight. These eye infections are very contagious, but pink eyes caused from eye allergies are not.

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Written by Dr. Emily Lemburg

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