Allergic conjunctivitis is a reaction of the eye to things in the environment such as dust, pollen, animal dander, and medications. It is not an infection and is not contagious, but can be very irritating.
Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when a person comes into contact with something like pollen or mold that he/she is sensitized to. Spring, summer and fall allergies tend to be due to what is currently blooming outside during those times. Other common allergens include house dust, mold and animal hair which can cause allergic conjunctivitis in the winter months.
Itching is the most common symptom from eye allergies. Other symptoms often include stinging, tearing, and burning. The conjunctiva (the thin membrane covering the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids) will be pink and bloodshot [See figure 1]. The conjunctiva can swell so it looks like a clear blister on the surface of the eye. The eyelid skin is very thin and can become quite swollen and red. Children may rub their eyes, roll their eyes, or do a hard blink to relieve the itch.
Not usually since the treatments are generally the same no matter what allergen is causing the reaction. Also, the types of allergens are usually very common things like grass, weed, and tree pollens which are often hard to avoid.
Both prescription and non-prescription (over the counter) eye drop medications are available for the treatment of allergic conjunctivitis. These medications often have several different effects (antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers) on the eye to help alleviate the allergic reaction. They are more effective if used daily, but some can also be used on an as needed basis.
There are different classes of anti-allergy drops with different types of actions. Sometimes what works well for one person’s allergies may not work as well for somebody else and the drops usually need some time to work If the symptoms remain the same despite medication, trying a different antihistamine drop may be helpful. In addition, oral medication can provide relief for children who won’t tolerate drops or who also have other symptoms including runny nose. Cold compresses can help the itching and swelling, but many small children will not tolerate them.
Yes, sometimes a short course of steroid eye drops along with the anti-histamine type eye drops is required to quiet the severe allergic reaction. Steroid use should be monitored closely by your ophthalmologist.
There is a risk of inducing glaucoma in eyes after prolonged steroid usage. Excessive or long term use can also lead to the development of cataracts. Consult your ophthalmologist about how long and frequently a steroid drop may be used since different steroid drops have different risks. A child on steroid drops needs to be monitored for these side effects. Only doctors who can monitor for side effects should prescribe steroids for allergic conjunctivitis.
Vernal Conjunctivitis is a severe episode of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. It is common in young boys and can occur the same time each year, but does eventually get outgrown. Typically these symptoms are so severe they require a short course of topical steroids for relief in addition to an antihistamine drop. [See figure 2].
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