Tis The Season For Sneezin’

Posted on April 29, 2011 · Posted in Eye Health

Normal vs. Inflamed Conjunctiva

Conjunctivitis is a very common inflammation of the tissue (conjunctiva) that lines the eyelids and the white part of the eye.  When this inflammation is due to an allergy to substances like tree/flower pollen or dander, it is classified as allergic conjunctivitis.

Why does this happen?  Just like elsewhere in the body, when your eyes are exposed to things you are allergic to, a substance called histamine is released.  Histamine causes blood vessels to dilate (get bigger or appear more prominent) and creates an excess of fluid in the area.  This is what creates the common signs and symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis: redness and itching of the eyes, excessive tearing, and puffy eyelids.

Contact lens wear presents additional challenges to allergy sufferers as a contact lens can bind proteins and allergens that the eye reacts to.  During a bout of allergic conjunctivitis, contact lens wear is often avoided because:

  • Excess tearing and eyelid inflammation makes the contact lens move more on the eye leading to discomfort and unstable vision
  • Contact lenses have a tendency to prolong allergic conjunctivitis by increasing exposure to allergens and physically irritating the inflamed areas of the eyelids.

So what is an eye allergy sufferer to do?  Some people with very specific allergies might be capable of avoiding the trigger.  For example, we’ve had patients who only get allergic reactions when they used a certain brand of makeup.  Eliminate the makeup and the allergic response of the eye disappeared.

However, most people will have more widespread environmental allergies and, for them, avoiding the triggers is impractical.  For these people, topical medications (ie. eye drops) can eliminate the itching and redness that makes their eyes so uncomfortable during allergy season.  Contact lens wearers may also benefit greatly from topical medications, but a more thorough evaluation of their history (ie. contact lens material, replacement schedule, disinfecting solution) often yields possible alternate treatment plans.

One more thought:  Many allergy sufferers take a systemic allergy medication such as Allegra or Claritin and assume that this will take care of the eyes, but then struggle with allergic conjunctivitis.  While systemic allergy medications will sometimes take care of the eye symptoms, they also have a tendency to dry the eye out.  This results in it being easier for allergens to bind to the eye and create an allergic reaction.  That’s why often the most effective way to treat eye allergies is by treating the eye directly with drops.