Allergic Conjunctivitis

Overview

What is conjunctivitis?

A clear, thinmembrane called the conjunctiva covers your eyeball and the inside of your eyelids. If something irritates this covering, your eyes may become red and swollen. Your eyes also may itch, hurt or water. This is called conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye.”

Causes & Risk Factors

What causes allergic conjunctivitis?

Many things can cause conjunctivitis, including bacteria,viruses or allergens. When an allergen causes the irritation, the condition is called allergic conjunctivitis. This type of conjunctivitis is not contagious.Some common allergens include:

  • Pollen fromtrees, grass and ragweed
  • Animal skin andsecretions such as saliva
  • Perfumes
  • Cosmetics
  • Skin medicines
  • Air pollution
  • Smoke

Prevention

What can I do to avoid getting conjunctivitis?

Try to identify and avoid the allergens that cause your symptoms. For example, if you are allergic to pollen or mold, stay indoors when pollen and mold levels are high. You can usually find out when allergen levels are high from the weather report. Keep your doors and windows closed, and use an air conditioner during the summer months.

Treatment

How is allergic conjunctivitis treated?

It may help to put a cold washcloth over your eyes forrelief. Lubricating eye drops (sometimes called artificial tears) may also makeyour eyes feel better. Antihistamine pills (which many people take for theirallergies) may also help relieve your symptoms. You can buy lubricating eyedrops and many antihistamine pills without a prescription.

Several other types of eye drops are available to treatallergic conjunctivitis. They can help relieve itchy, watery eyes and may keepsymptoms from returning. Eye drops may contain an antihistamine, adecongestant, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or a mast-cellstabilizer. Some drops contain a combination of these. Some eye drops require aprescription. Talk to your doctor about which treatment is right for you.

Do these treatments have side effects?

Many eye drops can cause burning and stinging when you firstput them in, but this usually goes away in a few minutes. It is important toremember that all medicines may potentially cause side effects, so talk withyour doctor before using any medicine, including eye drops.

Can I wear my contact lenses?

It’s not a good idea to wear contacts while you haveallergic conjunctivitis because the contacts may cause the conjunctivitis toget worse. Instead, wear your glasses until your eyes feel better.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • How do I know whether a virus, bacteria or allergen is causing my symptoms?
  • Is my condition contagious?
  • Will an antihistamine help relieve my symptoms? If so, which antihistamine should I take and for how long?
  • Will eye drops help relieve my symptoms? If so, how long should I use them?
  • Will conjunctivitis damage my eyesight?