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Eye Allergy: What is It?

The eyes are not only the windows to the person’s soul (so they are able to reflect what inside the person), but also the organ that allows us to get the information through seeing things (percept the reflection of the world, and our understanding of it). This is also one of the most sensitive and vulnerable organs in the body. Eyes react on every situation in our lives, especially it is seen in stressful and uncomfortable ones - smoke, tiredness, illness, different weather (such as too windy or too sunny), and allergy. Itching eyes or red, burning eyes are common for people suffering from different types of allergy. Almost all of them involve eyes troubles, as the reaction to the different particular allergen.

Eye Allergy is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and helps keep your eyeball and eyelid moist), that is an overreaction of the immune system to foreign substances (allergen), with the particular effect on eyes.

There are different types of allergy, according to the allergen affecting the eye. They are:

1.   Atopic eye allergy:

Hay fever eyes

25 percent of the population suffers from this kind of eye allergy. Its other names are “seasonal allergic conjunctivitis” and “hay fever conjunctivitis”.  This is a sudden intense response from exposure to usually airborne allergen (grass and tree pollen). Your eyes become your trouble episodically, in the short period of time (during summer pollen season).

Vernal conjunctivitis

This allergy is more severe in children, but occurs in young adults as well. This is also a seasonally recurring conjunctivitis (its other name - vernal keratoconjunctivitis). The eyes get sticky and it is very difficult to open them, especially on waking. The condition needs to be treated, otherwise corneal damage may occur.

Atopic conjunctivitis

Atopic keratoconjunctivitis or Eczema eyes are its other names. The type of atopic allergy (a similar entity to vernal conjunctivitis) that occurs mainly in older patients who have had a history of atopic eczematoid dermatitis. It is the most severe manifestation of allergic eye disease, results in dry itching eyes and blurred vision.

The allergy is not seasonal and needs to be treated as well, as it can cause more extensive corneal and conjunctival scarring. Eyelid eczema and infection are common, and lens cataracts may also develop over time.

2.   Perennial allergic conjunctivitis

The type of an eye allergy that tends to occur all year round. Common allergen is house dust mite and pet hair or dander (cat allergy). The symptoms of it are usually milder than those in seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.

3.  Contact lens allergy

Contact lens related allergy (or contact allergic conjunctivitis) is an allergy caused by constant local irritation by the contact lenses on the conjunctival surfaces. It occurs when the contact lenses themselves or the proteins in tear film (that bind to the surface of the lenses) can cause an irritative response of the conjunctiva. In some time a giant papillary conjunctivitis may be developed, more severe condition (larger swellings of the mucous membranes of the upper lid) and the patient may be not able to wear lenses as a result.

4.    Allergic reactions to medication

Adverse reaction to taking medication is a sudden, intense reaction usually to penicillin, sulfacetamide, bacitracin, and anesthetics. It includes intense itching and swelling of the conjunctiva.  

After taking some antibiotic and antiviral drops, as well as certain preservatives toxic papillary reactions may occur. It happens mainly after one week of medication use and results in a chronic “pink eye”.

5.   Viral/bacteria conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis can be caused by the same viruses that cause colds, so can be spread by coughing or sneezing of the infected people. As for bacteria conjunctivitis, the following bacteria can cause conjunctivitis - chlamydia, staphylococci, and streptococci. Viruses and bacteria can get into your eyes through contact with contaminated objects (such as towels, cosmetics, false eyelashes, contact lenses, and hands). Newborns can develop bacterial conjunctivitis (Chlamydia) if they are infected while they pass through the birth canal. 

Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes, when viral or bacterial conjunctivitis can affect both eyes, or only one eye. Another difference is that viral (as well as allergic conjunctivitis) may produce a clear discharge, while eyes with bacterial conjunctivitis may have a thick, creamy discharge (so called “pus”).

What Causes Eye Allergy?

Like all allergies eye allergy is an immune system response to the substance that is ordinarily harmless. Every time this substance comes into contact with your eyes – an allergic reaction occurs. The substance is called allergen, as it “switches on” the allergy (allergic reaction), it causes certain cells in the eye (mast cells) to release histamine and other substances/chemicals that cause blood vessels in the eyes to swell, and the eyes to become itchy, red and watery in order to get rid of the substance.

The common allergens are:

  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Pet hair or dander
  • Some medicines
  • Some viruses and bacteria

Such things as perfumes or cigarette smoke may irritate the eyes, but are not true allergies.

The histamine causes the reaction (body protection) that is in fact symptoms of the eye allergy.

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Allergy Symptoms

Common symptoms of allergies include the following:

  • Itching (this symptom almost always indicates an allergic reaction)
  • Swelling or puffiness of eyes
  • Redness
  • Tearing
  • Mucous production
  • Burning sensation
  • Blurred vision
  • Other body organ’s reaction, such as sneezing, coughing, itchy nose, mouth or throat, runny nose and headache from sinus congestion

These symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have an eye allergy of some kind, so it’s better to consult the doctor for further consultation. But the main message is that you should know your allergy, your specific allergen and your allergy needs to be treated.

Valentyna Ant.

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