Understanding the Five Primary Types of Eye Allergies

An allergy attack is not limited to a runny nose accompanied by wheezing and sneezing. Your eyes are also prone to sensitivity and irritation, often suffering from redness, swollenness, and an overall itchy sensation, among other symptoms.

How do eye allergies happen?

As seasons change, your body’s immune system becomes sensitive and reacts to triggers that cause a misfire in the body’s natural defense mechanism. Allergic reactions occur when the allergens come into contact with antibodies in the cells of your eyes. At the point of contact, your cells start releasing histamine, which causes tiny blood vessels to leak. When this happens, your eyes become excessively watery, itchy, and red in color.

There are five primary types of eye allergies:

1. Allergic Conjunctivitis

Conjunctiva is the membrane located inside of your eyelids and the covering of your eyeballs. The conjunctiva is highly susceptible to irritation from allergens, especially during hay fever season prominent in Spring.

Substances like pollen, dust, or mold spores are not necessarily harmful to your overall health, but when your eyes are exposed to them, they may become red, itchy, and watery. These symptoms are present when infected with allergic conjunctivitis, the most common form or eye inflammation.

Aside from Spring, those who suffer from allergic conjunctivitis may also experience it during Summer and Fall.

It comes in two main types:

  • Acute allergic conjunctivitis: This condition is short-term and is more common during the peak of allergy season. When contracted, your eyelids will suddenly swell, itch, and experience a slight burning sensation. A runny nose often accompanies this allergic reaction.

  • Chronic allergic conjunctivitis: This is a less common condition that can occur all year round. It is a significantly milder response to allergens like dust, food, and animal dander. Its symptoms come and go, which include a tingling or burning feeling, itching, and light sensitivity.

People who have a history of succumbing to hay fever and have severe allergies are more likely to develop allergic conjunctivitis. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies often run in families and affect up to 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children.

  1. Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis

This eye allergy is more serious than your usual allergic conjunctivitis since negligence may impair your vision. Vernal keratoconjunctivitis can occur throughout the year, and symptoms can worsen depending on the season. Generally, men below the age of 30 are more prone to suffer from the chronic eye inflammation, and 75 percent of those who deal with it have asthma or eczema. Like allergic conjunctivitis, symptoms include itchy and watery eyes, accompanied by light sensitivity and a foreign body sensation in the eye.

Heightened cases of vernal keratoconjunctivitis occur during the spring and summer months when hay fever is at its peak. The chronic eye inflammation can also be caused by an allergic reaction to other things, such as:

  • chlorine in swimming pools
  • cigarette smoke
  • ingredients in cosmetics

Again, if left untreated, vernal keratoconjunctivitis can lead to vision loss.

  1. Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis

This particular eye allergy is relatively rare, but is a potentially blinding ocular condition. According to a study in 1952, the disease is a bilateral type of conjunctivitis occurring in five male patients with atopic dermatitis. Reported initially to flare with worsening dermatitis, atopic keratoconjunctivitis in some patients evolves independently of dermatitis.

This type of eye allergy, for the most part, affects older patients. Symptoms of atopic keratoconjunctivitis are very similar to vernal keratoconjunctivitis and can happen throughout the year. Aside from having the same key symptoms of typical conjunctivitis, this chronic eye inflammation also triggers excessive production of mucus around the eyes upon waking up in the morning, which often causes the eyelids to stick together. Dampening a cloth with warm water and applying it over the eye area should soften and remove the dried-up mucus.

4. Contact Allergic Conjunctivitis

If you wear contact lenses, you are prone to contracting this particular type of allergic conjunctivitis. This inflammation occurs when the eye is irritated by contact lenses or the proteins from your tears that bind to the surface of the lenses, causing heavy discomfort. Symptoms include redness, itchiness, and mucus discharge.

5. Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis

“Giant papillary” refers to the relatively large bumps that form under your eyelid. Like Contact Allergic Conjunctivitis, Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis is an eye disease contracted as a result of wearing contact lenses. However, it is much more severe.

The following are the common causes of this eye inflammation:

  • Ingredients in contact lens solutions. Allergies can start developing at any time, so your eyes may begin reacting to certain chemicals even after you have used the same products for years.
  • Pollen and other allergens. Depending on the season, varying triggers in the air can build up on contact lenses.

The type of contact lenses, old cornea scars, loose stitches after eye surgery, and other types of foreign bodies rubbing on the inside of the upper eyelid can also cause giant papillary conjunctivitis.

Treatment for Eye Allergies

For mild cases of conjunctivitis, cold compresses and lubricating eye drops can relieve symptoms and pave the way for recovery. For more severe cases, antihistamines or anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed by your doctor.

In the case of eye allergies or inflammations associated with wearing contact lenses, avoiding them altogether is a standard procedure for several weeks, or until all symptoms are relieved. Your provider may also suggest the following:

  • use different soaking solutions
  • change your lens-care routine
  • transition to a different type of contacts
  • wear disposable contacts

If your soft contacts continue to irritate the inside of your eyelids, your provider may recommend that you make a permanent switch to gas permeable contacts. These lenses are uniquely shaped to avoid rubbing against your eyelids.

Keep in mind that whatever type of contact lenses your provider recommends, it is crucial that you clean them exactly as directed.

What should I do if my condition worsens?

Your eye allergy can worsen and result in disastrous complications if you leave them untreated for a prolonged period. If you experience ongoing or recurring redness, swelling, or other symptoms of an eye irritation, call us today at 623-474-3937 (EYES) for immediate solutions and treatment recommendations.


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