Up to 50 million Americans suffer from the miseries of allergies, with allergic reactions involving the eyes being a common complaint. An eye allergy that affects the conjunctiva, a clear layer of skin overlying the eyes, is commonly referred to as allergic conjunctivitis.
Allergic conjunctivitis is divided into several major subtypes, but the most common subtypes are seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) and perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC). SAC and PAC are triggered by an immune reaction involving a sensitized individual and an allergen. Simply stated, this means that if you are allergic to a particular substance and then come into contact with it, you experience an allergic reaction (symptoms like itching and sneezing).
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Although it frequently occurs, allergic conjunctivitis is most commonly seen in areas with high seasonal allergens.
Causes of Eye Allergies
Eye allergies often affect the conjunctiva, a clear layer of skin overlying the eyes. This clear layer of skin is the same type of skin that lines the inside surface of the nose. Because these two areas are so similar, the same allergens (substances that induce an allergic reaction) can trigger the same allergic response in both areas.
The main difference between SAC and PAC is the timing of the symptoms.
If you have SAC, you generally have problems for a short period of time.
You may be bothered in the spring by tree pollen, in the summer by grass pollen, or in the fall by weed pollen.
Generally, symptoms resolve during other times of the year, especially in the winter.
If you have PAC, problems probably last throughout the year.
Instead of outdoor allergens, you have problems with indoor allergens, such as dust mites, cockroaches, and pet dander.
Seasonal outdoor allergens may worsen problems if you are sensitive to them as well.
Eye Allergy Symptoms
SAC and PAC have identical symptoms and, almost always, the symptom of itching indicates an allergic reaction. This is true of allergic conjunctivitis, where the primary symptom is itchy eyes. In addition to itchy eyes, you may experience the following symptoms:
Matting and/or mucus production
When to Seek Medical Care for Eye Allergies
If you suffer from eye allergies but can identify and avoid whatever you are allergic to, symptoms should improve markedly. If you are unable to identify or avoid the allergens, seeking care from an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery) may help to make them more bearable.
If you have SAC, you may want to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist prior to the season in which you suffer from allergies in order to start treatment before symptoms begin.
If you have PAC, routine appointments with your ophthalmologist may be helpful to monitor eye allergies. Occasional flare-ups of symptoms may require more frequent visits. Consultation with an allergist may be very beneficial.