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Eye Allergies Q&A With Dr. Colston

Q: What are the common symptoms of allergies?

A: Itchy, watery, red, swollen eyes are the most common eye symptoms associated with allergies.

Q: How do allergies directly affect the eyes?

A: Like all allergies, allergic conjunctivitis starts when the immune system identifies an allergen. The allergen causes your immune system to produce antibodies called Immunoglobulin (IgE). The antibodies release chemicals which can then travel to the eyes and cause an allergic reaction which includes eyes that water, itch, and become red and swollen.

Q: What is meant by the term allergic conjunctivitis? Is that the same as “pink eye”?

A: The conjunctiva is a delicate membrane that covers the white part (the sclera) of the eye and the inside of the eyelids. When this membrane becomes infected or inflamed that is termed conjunctivitis. The term “pink eye” is a broad term generally used for viral conjunctivitis which is contagious. Allergic and bacterial conjunctivitis could also be called “pink eye” as the eye is generally red, watery, etc. This is another reason why seeing an eye doctor for “pink eye” is strongly recommended as not all “pink eye” is created equal and each requires a different treatment.

Q: Can allergies do permanent damage to my eyes?

A: If left untreated, the constant rubbing and inflammation associated with eye allergies can actually have permanent damage to the structures of the eye including the conjunctiva and cornea.

Q: What are the treatment options available for this condition?

A: Oral antihistamines often do a great job of relieving the systemic symptoms associated with allergies such as the sneezing and congestion. However, I have found that for eye allergies signs and symptoms such as itching and watery eyes are often best treated by going directly to the source with an eye drop. There are good over the counter eye drops that have an antihistamine in them which I prescribe for mild cases. More severe cases are treated with a prescription antihistamine eye drop. Whether I prescribe oral, over the counter or prescription drops I always recommend good lid hygiene. Meaning, cool compress and lid scrubs to physically clean off any allergens that may be present on the eyelash margin.