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Allergic Conjunctivitis

What is allergic conjunctivitis?

Unlike infectious viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by an allergic reaction to substances like pollen or mold spores present in the environment.  It presents as an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. Allergic conjunctivitis is the most frequent cause of conjunctivitis overall, generally affecting between 15% to 40% of the population. Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include:

  • redness of the eyes,
  • itchy, burning and watery eyes, and
  • mucus discharge.

Are there different types of allergic conjunctivitis?

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, or hay fever, is the most common type of ocular allergy.  It is related to  pollens that release spores during specific seasons. In the New York City area it most commonly occurs in May and June (grass and tree pollen) and in late August and September (ragweed pollen). If you are affected by hay fever and other seasonal allergies, you may also experience symptoms involving the nose and throat. Perennial allergic conjunctivitis is a year-round allergic condition. These allergic responses are often related to animal dander, dust, or other allergens present in the environment year-round. Symptoms of perennial allergic conjunctivitis are similar to seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, but tend to be milder.

What is the treatment for allergic conjunctivitis?

Treatment for allergic conjunctivitis often involves preventive steps to keep symptoms at bay. These include keeping pollen out of your home by shutting windows, ensuring your environment is dust-free, and using an indoor air purifier. If you suffer from itchy and watery eyes, a cool compress applied several times a day can provide relief. Many treatments are available for seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. They include  different classes of eye drops such as artificial tears, antihistamine combinations, mast cell stabilizers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs), and topical steroids.  Rarely, short courses of oral steroids are used. 

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