Eye allergies can vary from mild irritation of the conjunctiva
the membrane that covers the eyeball and extends to the inside
of the eyelids - to severe conjunctival inflammation with corneal
'Hay fever eyes'
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is the eye equivalent of hay fever
and affects up to 25 per cent of the general population. The eyes
become itchy, watery and red in the summer pollen season -
usually from exposure to grass and tree pollen.
The eyes are very sticky with a stringy discharge
A more severe form of this disease seen in children is vernal
conjunctivitis where the symptoms are more intense. The eyes
are very sticky with a stringy discharge and pain occurs especially
when opening the eyes on waking. The eyelid inner membranes
swell with the conjunctiva developing a cobblestone appearance,
corneal damage may even occur if the condition is left untreated.
Perennial allergic conjunctivitis tends to occur all year round with
house dust mite and cat allergy. The symptoms are usually milder
than those in seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.
Atopic keratoconjunctivitis although rare is the most severe
manifestation of allergic eye disease occurring predominantly in
adult males. It is the eye equivalent of severe eczema. This persistent
condition results in constant itching, dry eyes, blurred vision and is
associated with corneal swelling and scarring. Eyelid eczema and
infection are common and lens cataracts may develop over time.
Contact lens allergy
Contact lens wearers may develop giant papillary conjunctivitis
triggered by the constant local irritation of the contact lenses on
the conjunctival surfaces. The lining of the upper eyelid is usually
most affected. Disposable contact lenses may help settle symptoms
but occasionally contact lens wearing has to be suspended.
Never use steroid eyedrops unless under the direct supervision of a
doctor. Steroid eyedrops although very effective for treating eye
allergies can lead to unwanted side effects such as glaucoma,
cataract formation and encourage infections of the eye with
resultant corneal scarring.
What treatment can you get?
The treatment for allergic conjunctivitis involves the regular use
of eyedrops. Anti-allergy eyedrops such as sodium chromoglycate,
nedocromil sodium, olopatidine and lodoxamide help treat mild
seasonal disease. Anti-histamine solutions such as levocabastine
work for mild to moderate disease.
The oral anti-histamines - cetirizine, loratadine, mizolastine and
fexofenadine - also help, especially when there is associated nasal
allergy. In more severe eye allergies corticosteroid eyedrops
occasionally have to be used, but this should be for short periods only.