Ocular Allergy

Ocular Allergy

What is an Ocular Allergy?1

Ocular allergy is also called allergic conjunctivitis. It is an allergic reaction occurring whenever an allergen (which could be any substance) comes in contact with the eyes and causes certain eye cells (called mast cells) to release certain chemical substances such as histamines. These histamines cause the blood vessels in the eyes to swell, making the eyes itchy, red and watery.

Ocular allergy, i.e. allergic conjunctivitis can affect both the eyes and it is not contagious.

What are the Symptoms of an Ocular Allergy?2,3

Symptoms may appear as soon as the allergen comes in contact with the eyes or may appear two to four days later. Symptoms of an ocular allergy include the following:

  • Itchiness - this is the symptom that allergy sufferers most often complain about.

  • Red, irritated eyes.
  • Tearing or watery eyes.

  • Swollen eyelids.

  • Soreness, burning or pain.

  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Grittiness (foreign body sensation).
  • When waking up in the morning, the eyelids might feel like they are glued shut.
  • Usually, one may also have other allergy symptoms, such as a stuffy, runny nose and sneezing.

Does an Ocular Allergy Occur in any Specific Season or Can it Occur all Throughout the Year?1,2

Ocular allergy can occur during a specific season and also throughout the year.

  • An ocular allergy occurring during a specific season is termed seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC). This usually happens during the summer months. It is the most common type of eye allergy.
  • An ocular allergy occurring year-round is termed perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC). It is usually caused because of indoor allergens such as dust mites, moulds, etc.

What are the Allergens that Cause an Ocular Allergy?1,3

  • Cigarette smoke, perfume and diesel exhaust may inflame the eyes. They can act as irritants that cause non-allergic symptoms, or they can make one's allergic response worse.

Who is at Risk of Developing an Ocular Allergy?4

There are a number of factors that may make someone more likely to develop an ocular allergy, although these can vary, depending on the specific type of conjunctivitis:

  • Family and/or personal history: A personal or family history of allergic disease, including hay fever (allergic rhinitis), asthma or atopic dermatitis (eczema) increases the risk of an individual developing allergic conjunctivitis.
  • Other factors include the environment, age, gender, and the condition of the eyes.

Can an Ocular Allergy Harm the Eyesight?1,2

Ocular allergy can be extremely annoying and uncomfortable, and it can disrupt day-to-day activities.

  • One may have a hard time concentrating or may feel tired.
  • Reading or driving a car may be difficult because the ability to see clearly is diminished.
  • Many people are also concerned about the effect that ocular allergy symptoms can have on their appearance.
  • An ocular allergy does not harm the eyes unless there are rare conditions that are associated with atopic dermatitis (eczema) and other diseases; these can cause an inflammation that may affect the eyesight. If not treated, an ocular allergy can become severe and chronic, which can also affect the eyesight.

What Should I do if I Suspect that I have an Ocular Allergy?2

  • If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, especially itching, don't self-medicate. Consult your eye specialist as early as possible.

  • Wash your eyes frequently with clean, cool water, apply cold compresses, and avoid rubbing the eyes.

  • Your doctor will likely prescribe eye drops to relieve the itching, redness and eyelid swelling caused by ocular allergy.

What Should I do to Prevent an Ocular Allergy?5

The following steps would be helpful:

Prevent or avoid allergens that trigger your symptoms.

Wash your eyes frequently with clean, cool water.

Using sunglasses to act as a barrier for airborne allergens.

If you have itchy eyes or swollen, puffy eyelids, avoid touching or rubbing them as this may worsen your symptoms.

Wash your bed linen, pillowcases and towels with hot water and detergent to reduce allergens.

Minimize animal (pets) exposure, if animals are believed to trigger the allergic symptoms.

Don't share eye make-up or contact lenses with anyone.

References

1. http://www.acaai.org/alIergist/allergies/Types/eye-alIergies/Pages/default.aspx. Last accessed 13th February 2013.
2. http://www.edinaeyecIinic.eom/education.htm#eyealIergyfaq. Last accessed 13th February 2013.
3. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/understanding-eye-alIergies. Last accessed 13th February 2013.
4. http://www.virtualmedicalcentre.com/diseases/alIergic-conjunctivitis-red-eye-pink-eye/766. Last accessed 13th February 2013.
5. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/conjunctivitis?page=2. Last accessed 13th February 2013.
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