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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis - allergic seasonal/perennial; Atopic keratoconjunctivitis

Last reviewed: September 3, 2012.

Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when the clear layer of tissue lining the eyelids and covering the white of the eye (conjunctiva) become swollen or inflamed due to a reaction to pollen, dander, mold, or other allergy-causing substances.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

When your eyes are exposed to anything to which you are allergic, histamine is released and the blood vessels in the conjunctiva become swollen. Reddening of the eyes develops quickly, along with itching and tearing.

The pollens that cause symptoms vary from person to person and from area to area. Tiny, hard-to-see pollens that may cause hay fever include:

  • Grasses
  • Ragweed
  • Trees

The amount of pollen in the air can affect whether you develop symptoms. There is more likely to be increased amounts of pollen in the air on hot, dry, windy days. On cool, damp, rainy days most pollen is washed to the ground.

Allergies tend to run in families, although they are not inherited in any obvious way. It is hard to know exactly how many people have allergies, because many different conditions are often lumped under the term allergy.

Symptoms

Symptoms may be seasonal and can include:

Signs and tests

Your health care provider may look for the following:

Treatment

The best treatment is to avoid what causes your allergy symptoms. It may be impossible to avoid all of your triggers. However, you can often take steps to reduce your exposure to triggers such as:

  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Pollen

Lubricating eye drops can help decrease symptoms. You can relieve discomfort by applying cool compresses to the eyes. Over-the-counter oral antihistamines can provide more relief. However, they can sometimes make the eyes dry. 

If home-care measures do not help, you may need treatment by a health care provider. This may include:

  • Antihistamine or anti-inflammatory drops
  • Mild eye steroid drops (for more severe reactions)

You may also use eye drops that prevent certain white blood cells, called mast cells, from releasing histamine. These drops are given along with antihistamines for more severe symptoms. They work best if you take them before coming into contact with the allergen.

Expectations (prognosis)

Treatment often relieves symptoms, but they can return if you continue to be exposed to the allergen.

Complications

There are no serious complications, although discomfort is common.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you experience allergic conjunctivitis and it does not respond to over-the-counter treatment.

References

  1. Haq SM, Singh S, Song BJ, Trocme SD. Ocular allergic disorders. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Foundations of Clinical Ophthalmology. 2012 ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012: vol 2, chap 30.
  2. Bielory L, Friedlaender MH. Allergic conjunctivitis. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2008;28(1):43-58. [PubMed: 18282545]
  3. Stock EL, Meisler DM. Vernal keratoconjunctivitis. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology On DVD-ROM. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012:chap 9.

Review Date: 9/3/2012.

Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Antihistamines as an addition to topical nasal steroids for allergic rhinitis in childrenAntihistamines as an addition to topical nasal steroids for allergic rhinitis in children
    Allergic rhinitis is a very common chronic illness affecting 10% to 40% of children worldwide. Seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is most common around springtime. The symptoms are mostly sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes. We looked for trials that compared antihistamines (either oral or topical) in addition to a topical nasal steroid with a topical nasal steroid alone in children who had allergic rhinitis. We wanted to know whether adding antihistamines (oral or topical) in the therapy of children with allergic rhinitis who already use topical nasal steroids would have additional benefits for them. We found one trial that had been carried out in children comparing oral antihistamines in addition to topical nasal steroids with topical nasal steroids alone but it did not provide sufficient data to draw any conclusions. Most of the trials focused only on adults or included a small number of children. Unfortunately, the trials which included children along with adults did not report whether there were any differences in the effect of treatment or adverse effects in children in comparison with adults. We are therefore unable to draw a conclusion as to whether or not this combination therapy has beneficial effect in children with allergic rhinitis or whether the benefits are acceptable in terms of the adverse effects.
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Figures

  • Eye.
    Allergy symptoms.
    Conjunctivitis.

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