Spring Allergies & Your Eyes

Woman walking in grass looking uncomfortable The spring allergy season is upon us and many in North Texas are already experiencing the effects of allergies. Though rarely dangerous, allergies can be more than simply annoying.

Eye allergies are commonly triggered any number of allergens, including pollen, pet dander, dust and mold. As trees begin to bloom and pollen and other allergens are released into the air, these allergens begin to irritate the eyes by interacting with the conjunctiva, the tissue lining covering the white surface of the eye, causing a release of histamine. As a reaction, the eyes may itch, burn, water, become red and even swell. In severe cases, complications from eye allergies may damage eyesight.

The irritating and painful effects of spring allergies may be exaggerated for individuals who wear contact lenses. When the eyes are dry, itchy or red, contact lenses may add to eye discomfort. Sensitivity to light may also be a result of eye allergies. Additionally, contact lenses may trap allergens in the eye, causing further irritation.

People with a history of allergic rhinitis or atopic dermatitis, or a strong family history of allergies, may be more susceptible to developing eye allergies. Though it is not always the case, eye allergies typically affect both eyes.

Common types of allergic eye conditions:

  • Allergic conjunctivitis or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis — This is the most common allergic eye condition, and is typically associated with seasonal allergies or hay fever. Common symptoms including itchy, red, burning, watery or swollen eyes caused by the release of histamine. Topical antihistamine drops, decongestants and mast-cell stabilizers are common treatments for allergic conjunctivitis.
  • Atopic keratoconjunctivitis –– This condition, which primarily affects adolescent boys, involves inflammation in the conjunctiva and the cornea. Symptoms include itchy, red patches on the eyelids, scaly or crusty skin on the eyelids, heavy discharge or sensitivity to light. If not properly managed, this condition could lead to permanent scarring of the cornea from rubbing and scratching.
  • Vernal keratoconjunctivitis –– Though less common, this spring (vernal) eye allergy condition causes the eyes to become itchy, sensitive to light, and can even cause eyelids to feel heavy or droopy. Improper treatment may lead to impaired vision. A short-term, low-dose prescription of topical steroids has shown to be the most effective treatment for this condition.

Some eye conditions, not caused by allergies, may be confused with allergies. These conditions include dry eyes, tear-duct obstruction and conjunctivitis due to infection. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of eye allergies, only your doctor will be able to tell you if your symptoms are in fact caused by an allergic reaction. Schedule an eye exam today to ensure your symptoms are not caused by an infection or more serious problem.