Eye Allergies & Allergic Conjunctivitis

About Eye Allergies & Allergic Conjunctivitis
Eye allergies and allergic conjunctivitis are extremely common, especially in the Baltimore and greater Washington, D.C. area at certain times of the year. In fact, as many as 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, with allergic reactions involving the eyes being a very common complaint. An allergic reaction that affects the Conjunctiva, which is the clear layer of skin overlying the eyes, is commonly referred to as Allergic Conjunctivitis.

Allergic, or “hay fever”, conjunctivitis is most commonly seen in geographic areas with a high incidence of seasonal allergies, including Baltimore and greater Washington, D.C. The most common types are Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC) and Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis (PAC). SAC and PAC are triggered when a person is exposed to an allergen, most often one that is airborne. In other words, if you are allergic to a particular substance and then come into contact with it, you experience an allergic reaction, i.e. itching, sneezing.

Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis
Symptoms often develop rapidly after exposure to the allergen and include itching, tearing, burning, red eyes, mucus discharge, and eyelid swelling. The conjunctiva is the same type of skin that lines the inside of the nose. Therefore, the same allergens can cause similar types of allergic reactions in both the eyes and the nose. The most common forms of allergens include pollen from grass, trees and weeds as well as dust, molds, and pet dander.

Although the actual symptoms of SAC and PAC are pretty similar they tend to occur at different times:
SAC symptoms occur in the spring and summer (grass/trees), or fall (weeds). The attacks are usually short-lived and absent during other times of the year.

PAC symptoms can occur year-round and are typically caused by dust and/or pet dander.
Allergens like pollens may also worsen your symptoms during certain times of the year. The most effective “treatment” of allergies is avoidance of the allergen(s). If you can identify and avoid the particular agent(s) that you are allergic to, your symptoms will improve significantly.

Tips to Reduce Eye Allergies & Conjunctivitis

  • Reduce the allergen load by minimizing clutter where allergens can collect such as pillows, bedding, draperies, and new dust ruffles
  • Minimize carpeting that can harbor dust mites
  • Clean regularly and thoroughly to remove dust and mold
  • Use barriers and filters like pillow covers and furnace/air conditioner allergen filters
  • Keep windows and doors closed during active allergy seasons
  • Avoid pet dander

Possible Treatments for Eye Allergies
Of course avoidance of the allergens is not always easy or possible. If the symptoms do develop, you can try any of the following therapies either alone or in combination:

  • Apply cold compresses
  • Use artificial tears/lubricating eye drops to flush out allergens that get into your eyes
  • Use over-the-counter medications, such as allergy eye drops and oral antihistamines, as directed for mild allergies

Beyond these self-help measures, there are many very effective eye drops we can prescribe. If necessary we can help reduce eye allergies by identifying those substances that you are most allergic to through skin testing by an Allergist.

If you or someone you know experiences eye allergies, itchy eyes or allergic conjunctivitis and needs help, please call Baltimore Washington Eye Center at 800-495-3937 to schedule an appointment.