What is allergic conjunctivitis?

Allergic conjunctivitis is a reaction of the eye to things in the environment, such as: dust, pollen, animal dander, and medications. It is not an infection and is not contagious, but can be very irritating.

Also known as eye allergies, the most common symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis are itching, stinging, tearing, and burning. The conjunctiva (the thin membrane covering the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids) will be pink and bloodshot. Patients may rub their eyes, roll their eyes, or do a hard blink to relieve the itch.

What causes allergic conjunctivitis?

Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when a person comes into contact with an irritant, such as pollen, grasses, or mold, that he/she is sensitized to. Other common allergens include house dust, mold, and animal hair. While is can be useful to know the specific allergen causing the issue, treatments tend to be universal no matter the irritant. Patients may have allergic conjunctivits even when they do not have seasonal allergies, or have negative allergy testing by an allergist.

Is allergic conjunctivitis contagious?

Fortunately eye allergies are not contagious! However, if you notice a change in your symptoms or green or yellow discharge from one or both of your eyes please be seen by your eye doctor to make sure you do not have pink eye, which can be contagious.

What medication(s) are available to treat allergic conjunctivitis?

Both prescription and non-prescription (over the counter) eye drop medications are available for the treatment of allergic conjunctivitis. These medications often have several different effects on the eye to help alleviate the allergic reaction. They are more effective if used daily, but some can also be used on an as-needed basis.

What options are available if anti-allergy eye drops are not helping?

If the symptoms remain the same despite medication, trying a different antihistamine drop may be helpful. In addition, oral medication can provide relief for children who won’t tolerate drops or who also have other symptoms, including runny nose. Cold compresses can help the itching and swelling.

Are steroid eye drops okay for children?

Yes, sometimes a short course of steroid eye drops along with the anti-histamine eye drops is required to mitigate the severe allergic reaction.  Steroid use should be monitored closely by your ophthalmologist.

Why can’t steroid drops be used all the time?

Extended use of steroid drops does hold the risk of inducing glaucoma in the eyes. Excessive or long term use can also lead to the development of cataracts. Consult your ophthalmologist about how long and frequently a steroid drop may be used, since different steroid drops have different risks.

A child on steroid drops needs to be monitored for these side effects. Only doctors who can monitor for side effects should prescribe steroids for allergic conjunctivitis.

What is Vernal Conjunctivitis?

Vernal Conjunctivitis is a severe episode of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. It is common in young boys and can occur the same time each year, but is eventually outgrown. Typically, these symptoms are so severe they require a short course of topical steroids for relief in addition to an antihistamine drop.