Allergies have an enormous impact on the health and well-being of the population. Each year, approximately 50 million Americans suffer from allergic diseases.
WHAT IS AN ALLERGY AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOUR EYES?
An allergy is the immune system’s hypersensitive response to a harmless foreign substance in the body such as plant pollen, a certain food, or a drug. Whatever the foreign substance, or “allergen,” the immune system responds as if it were reacting to a real threat by triggering a specific type of immune response. This response can occur anywhere in the body.
An allergic response can cause the eyes to become inflamed. Your eyes may become increasingly red and itchy. The symptoms of eye allergies can vary greatly in severity and presentation from one person to the next. Most people will present with at least some degree of irritation or a foreign-body sensation. Many manifestations of allergy may be subtle and other eye conditions such as dry eyes and blepharitis may also contribute to worsen these symptoms.
Allergic conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva that is caused by an allergic reaction. The conjunctiva is the mucous membrane that covers the white of the eye and inner surface of the lids. Since the large majority of eye allergies involve the conjunctiva, the terms “ocular allergy” and “allergic conjunctivitis” are often used synonymously.
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC): SAC is the most common type of allergy that affects the eyes. This type of conjunctivitis occurs more commonly in the spring and the fall—when grass, tree, flower, and ragweed pollens are abundant. Lids may be swollen and papillae may be present on the palpebral conjunctiva area.
Perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC): These allergies tend to occur year-round. The most common causes are animal dander, insect droppings, and dust mites. These are also considered to be environmental allergies due to the factors involved.
Allergic conjunctivitis is not infectious or contagious. It occurs when the body is exposed to materials that cause an allergic reaction, such as pollen or dander, pollution, smoke, or even hair products. Neither SAC nor PAC typically threatens vision, but they can greatly affect a patient’s daily activities and quality of life. Commonly, symptoms interfere with a patient’s ability to work, perform daily chores, and enjoy leisure activities.
- Itching and /or burning eyes
- Enlarged vessels in the sclera (white part of the eye)
- Puffy Eyelids
Treatment often includes allergy eye drops, applying cool compresses to the eyes, taking antihistamines and decreasing contact lens wear. However, if symptoms persist for an extended period of time after treatment, you should have your eyes examined by your ophthalmologist, as there could be a more serious eye problem. There are several eye diseases that cause red eyes, some of which can lead to blindness unless diagnosed and treated.
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