What You Should Know About Allergic Conjunctivitis

By Chelsea Nguyen, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2022
University of Iowa College of Pharmacy

June 17, 2021

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis (eye allergies) is extremely common in both adults and children. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), allergic conjunctivitis is found in up to 30% of the general US population every year. Someone you have known or yourself probably had experience with it. Conjunctivitis means the inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a mucous membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines inside the eyelids. 

Allergic conjunctivitis is not a contagious eye condition compared to bacterial conjunctivitis. Intense itchiness and watery discharge are the main characteristics to differentiate allergic conjunctivitis from bacterial conjunctivitis.

How Can You Get Allergic Conjunctivitis?

Allergic conjunctivitis happens when indoor and outdoor allergens, such as pollen, mold spores, dust mite or pet dander, get into the eye.  The body treats these allergens as foreign substances and protects itself by releasing substances which produce inflammation.

What Are Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis?

The most common symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include:

  • Intense itchy eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Burning feeling

Other allergy symptoms such as runny or itchy nose, sneezing, coughing might also occur along with the eye-specific symptoms.

How Can You Manage Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis?

Some best practices to help control allergic conjunctivitis symptoms include: 

  • Avoid allergens that trigger your eye allergies
  • Do not touch or rub your eyes
  • Do not wear contact lenses or eye make-up until symptoms are gone
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat to reduce pollen getting into the eye

Treatment options that help relieve symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include: 

  • Apply a cold compress to the eye for about 5-10 minutes (3-4 times a day) to relieve discomfort due to redness and irritation
  • Use artificial tears to help with dryness and wash away the irritants from your eye (Available over the counter at most pharmacies. Ask your local pharmacist for more information.)
  • Anti-allergy eye drops (such as ketotifen fumarate 0.025% (Alaway, Zaditor) or Olopatadine 0.1% (Pataday), and oral medications (such as fexofenadine (Allegra) or cetirizine (Zyrtec)) can also be helpful (Consult with your local pharmacist for the best option and how long to stay on anti-allergy eye drops.)

If you experience one of these severe symptoms, it is essential to see your doctor immediately:

  • Intense pain in the eye
  • Unable to open the eye
  • Difficulty seeing
  • Extreme redness in the eye
  • Severe sensitivity to light 

The bottom line is, most allergic conjunctivitis cases will get better over time without going to the doctor. If symptoms are not getting better or worsen with the above treatments, talk to your doctor.

References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/allergen.htm
  2. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-and-vision-conditions/conjunctivitis
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis
  4. https://www.aafa.org/eye-allergy-conjunctivitis
  5. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/allergic-conjunctivitis
  6. https://ada.com/conditions/allergic-conjunctivitis
  7. Eye Allergies Causes and Treatments (verywellhealth.com)
  8. Eye Allergy Diagnosis and Treatment - American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org)
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