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Eye allergy

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Overview of eye allergy

Eye allergy or allergic conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the thin membranes that is present around the eyes (conjunctivae). This is caused due to the overreactions of the immune system to foreign substances. Eye allergies are frequently associated with other allergic conditions like hay fever, dermatitis etc.

Drugs and cosmetics also play an important role in causing allergies. Severe allergies are often worrying condition and require visits to an ophthalmologist or allergist. Recent studies have shown high prevalence of eye allergies in developed countries.1 Very rarely, eye allergies can cause serious damage to the eye or loss of vision.

Classification of eye allergy

Eye allergies are classified based on different categories. The commonly occurring allergies are as follows.

Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis

This is usually associated with rhinitis, and usually occurs in the spring and fall season when pollens are at their peak. This is caused due exposure to airborne allergens like grass pollen and ragweed.

Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis

This kind of allergy is chronic and may be present all around the year. Perennial allergic conjunctivitis is caused due to antigens like dust mites, animal dander, mold and air pollutants, which are present all through the year.2

Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis

This kind of allergy is chronic and causes the inflammation of the cornea (keratisis). This allergy is caused in association with other allergic diseases and is seen in warmer climates of the globe. This is commonly seen in male children and gradually subsides, as they grow older.3

Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis

This is a severe allergic and chronic condition, which involves the inflammation of the conjuctiva, eyelids and cornea. This condition is sight threatening and can affect people with the age between 20 and 50 years and who have a history of atopic dermatitis.4

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis

This is an inflammatory condition and is also chronic. Giant papillary conjunctivitis is caused due to continuous mechanical irritation of ocular surfaces, resulting in papillary hypertrophy. This leads to the formation of abnormally large cobblestone papillae. The factors causing this include contact lenses or exposed sutures in the eye. Soft, hard and gas permeable contact lenses increase the prevalence of this condition.5

Drug-Induced Allergic Conjunctivitis

This kind of allergy occurs due to long-term use of drugs related to eyes like eye drops, ointments, contact lens solution etc. The chemical preservatives present in these drugs can cause adverse reaction in the lower eyelid and inferior conjunctiva, and may lead to this condition.6

Symptoms of eye allergy    

The symptoms of eye allergies vary according to the kind of allergy.

The following are some of the symptoms.

  • Redness of the conjunctiva and swollen eyes
  • Intense tearing or itchy eyes
  • Mucous discharge
  • Photophobia
  • Chemosis
  • Burning sensation
  • Intolerance to contact lens
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Itchy nose, mouth and throat
  • Headache
  • Pinpoint keratisis
  • Papillae development
  • Sensing the presence of a foreign body in the eyes

Diagnosis of eye allergy

A differential diagnosis of eye allergy can be made with eye examination. If the eye allergies are in the earlier stages and milder in form, then specific diagnosis is required to distinguish between the allergies. Diagnostic tests are essential for specific diagnosis. These include conjunctival provocation tests, IgE measurement in tears, tear film evaluation, microbial tests, conjunctival cytodiagnosis and confocal imaging.7

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Treatment of eye allergy

Identifying the allergen and avoiding its contact or exposure may be beneficial to some extent, but unfortunately, not all allergens can be avoided and hence the following treatments are used in treating eye allergies.

Using drugs like antiallergy eye drops and tablets.

Artificial tears can be used to help to lubricate the cornea if it gets irritated and removes the allergen that gets into the eyes.

Histamine-induced leakiness and dilation of blood vessels can be treated using topical vasoconstrictors and antihistamines.

In severe cases of allergy, topical steroids may be suggested.

In mild form of allergies, cold compresses are useful.


1.Bremond-Gignac D. The clinical spectrum of ocular allergy. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2002; 2: 321–324.

2.Stahl JL, Cook EB, Barney NP, Graziano FM. Pathophysiology of ocular allergy: The roles of conjunctival mast cells and epithelial cells. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2002; 2: 332–339.

3.Ono SJ, Abelson MB. Allergic conjunctivitis: Update on pathophysiology and prospects for future treatment. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005; 115: 118–122.

4.Bielory L. Differential diagnoses of conjunctivitis for clinical allergist-immunologists. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2007; 98: 105–114.

5.Butrus S, Portela R. Ocular allergy: diagnosis and treatment. Ophthalmol Clin North Am. 2005; 18: 485–492.

6.Baudouin C. Allergic reaction to topical eyedrops. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005; 5: 459–463.

7.Leonardi A. In-vivo diagnostic measurements of ocular inflammation. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005; 5: 464–472.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: January 19, 2015