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When “Pink Eye” Isn’t A Disease: Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis

We all know about conjunctivitis, or pink eye, but did you know you conjunctivitis isn’t always caused by a bacteria or virus? Allergic conjunctivitis has very similar symptoms (red/pink painful eyes that are itchy and swollen), but it’s caused by contact with an allergen, not exposure to a disease. With spring and seasonal allergies upon us, let’s dig a little deeper.

Certain types of allergens will cause some immune systems to overreact. The most common allergens associated with allergic conjunctivitis are:

  • Pollen (i.e., hay fever)
  • Animal fur
  • Eye drops
  • Make-up
  • Dust mites

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis occurs in countries with cold winters (and boy did we have one this year!), and pollen is the most common culprit. Usually, it’s not just the eyes that are affected. Those suffering from allergic conjunctivitis often also present with sneezing; an itchy, stuffy, runny nose; and itchy, watery eyes. The spring and summer months are most likely to cause reactions, but some people have reactions in the early fall as well.

The most obvious treatment is to avoid the allergen, but as most of us can’t completely avoid being outside, there are other options. Trading out your contact lenses for glasses is a good idea, at least until 24 hours after your symptoms have subsided. You should also avoid rubbing your eyes (easier said than done, we know). The bring relief, try artificial tears (eye drops) and cold compresses.

There are medical options you can try as well. Antihistamines are effective, either orally or as eye drops. Oral options include cetirizine, fexofenadine and loratadine and are usually taken once a day. For eye drops, try Alaway and Zaditor. The drops will treat your eye symptoms, but if, as mentioned above, you have multiple symptoms, you’ll find the oral dose treats everything. You can also see your omptometrist about prescription eye drops, including azelastine, emedastine and ketotifen.

Mast cell stablizers are another prescription option. While these drugs take longer to make an impact, their effects will last longer than antihistamines. (Some people take both in conjunction, to get the more immediate relief from the antihistamine while enjoying the longer relief of the stabilizer.)

Finally, there are corticosteroids, but these are rarely prescribed, used only in extreme cases. Corticoid is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex, and synthetic versions of the hormone can reduce swelling and decrease the body’s immune response. Basically, it’s a big old “Calm down!” to your body. This treatment will absolutely come from your optometrist – it’s prescription only.

If green grass, flowering trees, tulips and daffodils make you cringe with the thought of dry, itchy eyes, comes see us. It’s very likely we can help you find a way to get through spring without the usual tears and redness.

If you have trouble using eye drops, here’s a video with some tips: