Allergies and Your Eyes

Eye allergies arise with your body's immune system becoming sensitive and overreacting to allergens in the environment, which poses no problem for most people. An allergic reaction occurs when an allergen interacts with your antibodies (immunoglobulin) that are tethered to the mast cells inside your eyes. These mast cells react by the releasing of histamine and other chemicals that make the tiny blood vessels leak and subsequently cause the eyes to become irritated, watery, and red.

Eye allergies can share symptoms with ocular diseases, making it very important to get an accurate diagnosis. Eye allergy symptoms can range from the annoyance of redness in the eyes to the more severe inflammation, which may be serious enough to impair your vision. Conjunctivitis, the inflammation of the conjunctiva tissue which covers the white of your eyes, is a condition found in many people and is attributed to allergies and infection.

What are the Common Allergic Eye Conditions?

Allergic Conjunctivitis
Also known as "allergic rhinoconjunctivitis". The most commonly found allergic eye disorder. It usually is seasonal and is associated with hay fever. The leading cause is pollens, although indoor allergens such as dust mites, molds, and dander from household pets such as cats and dogs may affect the eyes year-round. Typical symptoms may include itching, redness, tearing, burning, watery discharge, and eyelid swelling.

Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis
This particular disorder is found mostly but not exclusively late-adolescent young adults. This form of conjunctivitis tends to affect males at a rate three times that of females. The condition is characterized by intensely itchy, red areas that appear on the eyelids. Heavy discharge from the eyes can occur, and the skin of the eyelid may show scales and crusts. Severe cases may include light sensitivity and a noticeable thickening of the eyelids. Common food allergies and airborne allergens, especially dust mites and pet dander, are also a frequent contributor to the condition.

Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis
Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is an uncommon health condition that tends to occur in preadolescent boys (a 3 to 1 male to female ratio). It is usually outgrown during the later teen years or early adulthood. (Vernal is another term for "spring".) Generally appearing in late spring and favoring environments that are: open, dry, dusty, windy, and warm. Your eyes can become severely itchy, light-sensitive, and your eyelids feel uncomfortable. Within infected eyes, a "stringy" discharge can be found, and of the upper eyelids will appear to be "cobblestoned."

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC)
Named for its noticeably typical feature, large bumps (papillae) that are found on the conjunctiva under your upper eyelid. Most likely, the result of irritation from a foreign agent, like a contact lens (Hard, soft, and rigid gas-permeable). The reaction can be observed by redness and itching of the eye, accompanied by a thick discharge. This condition is believed, in part, to be due to an allergic reaction to either the contact lens itself, protein deposits on the contact lens, or the preservative in the solution for the contact lenses. Allergic reaction to contact lenses is by far the most common for hard-contact lens wearers and, conversely, least for those who use disposable lenses. Not a good practice in general, sleeping with contact lenses dramatically increases the risk of developing GPC in individuals.

In order to have your ophthalmologist be able to diagnose your eye allergies, they will start with evaluating your symptoms, the state of your eyes, and medical history to discover if it is related to an allergic reaction or an eye infection. A seasoned, experienced eye doctor will examine your eyes with a modern slit-lamp microscope and check allergenic signs, like the noticeably swollen blood vessels that sit on the surface of your eye. Further diagnostic exams can be testing for specific white blood cell types that show up in the areas of the eye where it has been affected.

If you would like to speak to someone at New Vision Eye Center or schedule an appointment for an evaluation with one of our world class, board certified ophthalmologists, call 772-257-8700.