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Allergies are very common and are thought to affect more than 1 in 4 people in their lifetime, but they’re usually more irritating than dangerous. Allergens which particularly affect the eyes include pollen, dust mites, animal dander and mould. Common eye allergy symptoms are:
There are a few types of eye allergies including:
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is the most common type of eye allergies and is usually caused by different types of pollen during different seasons. Common symptoms are itching, redness and burning eyes and clear discharge.
Perennial allergic conjunctivitis is the same as seasonal but it occurs throughout the year and the symptoms tend to be less prominent. Perennial allergies are usually caused by allergens like pet dander, dust mites, mould or other household allergens.
Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is more significant than seasonal or perennial allergies and while it can affect you year round, it is usually more prominent in certain seasons. It usually affects boys and young men and about 75% of patients also have eczema or asthma.
This type of eye allergy usually affects older men the most with a history of allergic dermatitis. Symptoms can affect you all year and are similar to vernal keratoconjunctivitis including, redness, burning, severe itching and production of a lot of thick mucus which can stick your eyelids together particularly after sleeping. If left untreated, atopic keratoconjunctivitis can cause scarring of the cornea, so it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible and attend regular check-ups with your optician.
Contact allergic conjunctivitis can happen when contact lenses irritate your eyes or when the proteins in your tears bind to the surface of the contact lens which causes itching, irritation, redness and mucus discharge. Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a more severe type of contact allergic conjunctivitis when fluid sacs develop in the upper lining of the inner eyelid. Symptoms include:
To reduce eye allergy symptoms you can either avoid contact with the allergens or use medication, depending on what is causing your symptoms and how severe they are.
Avoiding allergens depends on what it is that causes your symptoms, if you are allergic to pollen for example avoiding going out on days with a high pollen count will help. Wearing wraparound sunglasses has also been shown to be effective in reducing the amount of pollen that comes into contact with your eyes, which reduces eye allergy symptoms as well as other symptoms like sneezing.
If you are allergic to household allergens like dust mites and mould hard floors like wood can be easier to clean and reduce the amount of the allergen in your home. Using anti-allergy bedding and pillows can help reduce symptoms at night and damp dusting can help remove more of the allergen and prevent it being swept up into the air.
To reduce exposure to mould spores keep your home well ventilated, particularly in the bathroom and kitchen, and clean these areas regularly. If you see mould growing in your home, clean it quickly with a specialised mould cleaner or bleach solution.
Avoid wearing contact lenses as they can attract and accumulate allergens and make your symptoms worse. Try wearing glasses during allergy season or wearing daily contacts you can dispose of each day, which can help reduce the build-up.
There are a few options for medication, including eye drops, nasal sprays and pills.
Non-prescription eye drops and nasal sprays can provide immediate relief for sore, itchy eyes and a runny nose and are usually available in most pharmacies. Prescription eye drops and nasal sprays are also available under the guidance of your GP so if you are struggling and find the over the counter options ineffective, make sure you discuss your options with your doctor. Medications include:
When the body reacts to allergens it releases histamine which dilates blood vessels and making the walls of blood vessels abnormally permeable. This causes a runny nose and watery, itchy eyes. Antihistamines work by blocking the attachment of histamine to cells in the body that produce an allergic response, therefore reducing allergy symptoms.
Decongestants work by reducing swelling in the nasal passages to make it easier to breathe. They also reduce the size of blood vessels on the white (sclera) of the eye to relieve red eyes. Combinations of antihistamines and decongestants are available to provide double the relief
Mast cells are histamine-containing cells which work as part of the body’s immune system. Mast cell stabilizers work by preventing the mast cells from releasing histamine and other chemicals which cause allergic reactions. Mast cell stabilizers can take a few weeks to take effect so are recommended for reducing future allergy outbursts rather than current acute symptoms.
NSAIDs may be prescribed as eye drops to reduce swelling in the eyes and are primarily used to treat hayfever.
Steroids are less common and usually used to treat acute eye allergy symptoms for short term use. Potential side effects include glaucoma and high blood pressure so it is recommended to use them short term as directed by your doctor.