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Allergic Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye conditions. It is often called "pink eye." It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and helps keep your eyelid and eyeball most.

Allergens (such as pollen, mold spores, pet dander, etc.), irritants (such as dirt, smoke, chlorine, etc.) and even viruses and bacteria can cause conjunctivitis. Pink eye caused by allergens is called allergic conjunctivitis. If it’s caused by bacteria or viruses it can spread easily from person to person but is not a serious health risk if diagnosed quickly; allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.

It is important to find out whether your pink eye is caused by allergies or infection because each condition has different treatments.

Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis

  • Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
  • Increased amount of tears
  • Itchy eyes
  • Swelling of the eyelid
  • Blurred vision

See an allergist, optometrist, or family doctor if you have any of these persistent symptoms.

How is it Treated?

Allergic conjunctivitis may disappear completely, either when the allergy is treated with antihistamines, or when the allergen is removed. Your healthcare provider may recommend you do the following:

  • Ocular decongestants: These medicines reduce redness by constricting small blood vessels in the eye. They are not recommended for long-term use. Using these drops for more than a few days can worsen symptoms.
  • Ocular antihistamines: These reduce redness, swelling, and itching by blocking histamine, the chemical that causes many allergy symptoms. They are available both over-the-counter and by prescription.
  • Ocular steroids: When other medicines fail, steroid eye drops can help to relieve symptoms. Steroids are used with the supervision of a doctor since they can cause negative side affects if not used carefully. These drops can also increase the risk of cataracts, clouding of the lens of the eye that can cause long-term damage and impair your vision.
  • Cromolyn: This medicine works by preventing cells from releasing histamine, and it works best when started before your allergy symptoms occur.
  • Immunotherapy: Allergy shots can be effective over the long-term.

What Can I Do to Relieve Symptoms?

  • Remove contact lenses.
  • Use a cold compresses on your eyes.
  • Try nonprescription drops to help relieve itching and burning.

The best defense against allergic conjunctivitis is to simply avoid contact with substances that trigger your allergies.  Other tips include:

  • Don't touch or rub your eye(s).
  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
  • Wash your bed linens, pillowcases hot water and detergent to reduce allergens.
  • Avoid wearing eye makeup.
  • Don't share eye makeup.
  • Never another's contact lenses.

Choose glasses instead of contact lenses during allergy season.


SOURCE: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care. First created 1995; fully updated 1998; most recently updated 2005.
© Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) Editorial Board

© Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
www.aafa.org 1-800-7-ASTHMA