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Eye Allergies


Eye allergies are usually more annoying than they are dangerous.  Eye allergies are common.  In fact, about 50% of people with general allergies experience eye allergies.  In many cases, over-the-counter medications can help relieve itchy watery eyes.  However, if your symptoms persist or are bothersome, you should contact your eye doctor who can recommend prescription medication to relieve your symptoms.


The conjunctiva is a thin membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and the outer layer of the whites of your eyes (sclera).  Because the conjunctiva is directly exposed to your environment, it can be easily irritated by allergens.  Allergens are substances that cause an allergic reaction, such as pollen or mold.


Eye allergies are triggered by seasonal or year-round allergens.  Examples of seasonal allergens include tree, grass, and weed pollen.  Year-round allergens include dust mites, pet dander, mold, and air pollution.  Many people with other allergic conditions, such as hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and atopic eczema (dermatitis), experience eye allergies as well.  Other substances can cause eye allergies.  Common examples are cosmetics, soaps and foods, and even eye drops.


Eye allergies cause itchy, red, burning, and watery eyes. Your eyelids may swell.  Although you may want to rub your eyes, you should avoid doing so because rubbing will actually make your condition worse.  In rare instances, eye allergies may contribute to vision loss.


In many cases, the symptoms of eye allergies are relieved with over-the-counter products.  However, if your symptoms continue or become worse, you should contact your doctor.  Your doctor can diagnose eye allergies by simply examining you.  You may be referred to an allergist to help identity what you are allergic to.


There are several medications for treating eye allergies, including prescription eye drops, shots, and pills.  Cool compresses may help reduce eye swelling.  Artificial tears may provide relief because they help to keep the eyes moist as will over-the-counter allergy drops.  Severe allergic reactions should be seen by your eye specialist as these may require more potent medications in the form of cortisone derivatives or other products to stop inflammation.


Allergy prevention is done by avoiding the inciting agent or taking medication to protect you against an allergy attack.  This includes eye drops, antihistamines, and desensitization to the causative agent.


In the vast majority of cases, there are few if any complications to allergic conjunctivitis.  In rare instances, chronic inflammation can lead to scar tissue forming on the conjunctiva and damage to the cornea of the eye.