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3 key facts about allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis: did you know that there are 4 different forms? Would you be able to recognize the symptoms? And do you know the methods used to treat it? In this article from Femme Actuelle,(article available in french only)  Dr. Stéphanie Zwillinger talks about the causes, symptoms and duration of treatment. But the COP9 team also offers you this article with lots of additional information! Read on to discover 3 key facts to remember about allergic conjunctivitis.

allergic conjunctivitis
Man with one eye showing redness

1 – There are 4 forms of allergic conjunctivitis!

Acute allergic conjunctivitis

This is classic conjunctivitis. In this case :

  • the eye is red ;
  • the eyelids may swell ;
  • there is severe watering of the eyes with a slight decrease in the visual field ;
  • clear secretions may be present in the eye.

This allergic conjunctivitis presents a daily discomfort. This reaction is called anaphylactic, meaning that your body reacts quickly (from a few seconds to a few minutes) to massive and direct contact with the allergen. 

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis

This type of conjunctivitis corresponds to ocular reactions present for the duration of the exposure to the allergenic element.

Examples of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis include:

  • an allergy to trees, such as sycamore and olive (January to May);
  • an allergy to gramineous seeds, such as quackgrass (May to June);
  • an allergy to grass, such as ragweed (July to October).

The most common allergy is to pollen, which is present in spring and summer. The pollen is present in the air and is deposited on the conjunctiva. The seasonal conjunctivitis is longer lasting and is characterized by a tingling feeling, a sensation of dust in the eye, and a discomfort under the eyelid. Without treatment, or a stop to exposure of the allergen, this pathology will not regress.

Perennial allergic conjunctivitis

Here, the allergens responsible for conjunctivitis are complex to identify. People with allergies may have minimal or acute symptoms and are chronic (all year-round).

The cause of this type of allergic conjunctivitis can be:

  • occupational exposure, such as chemicals ;
  • molds or fungi in the home or workplace ;
  • dust mites;
  • animal hair.

In this case, in addition to eye problems, reactions at the ENT level can be observed: cough, sore throat, clear nose discharge. This type of pathology should be monitored because it can lead to complex and severe chronic diseases. Do not hesitate to make an appointment with your ophthalmologist and your general practitioner on this subject. 

A particular and severe form of an allergy: vernal keratoconjunctivitis

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC) is both rare and severe. This ocular allergy occurs mainly in children, but also in young adults. On average, 8 out of 10 cases occur before the age of 10. The inflammation of the ocular surface is particularly visible, with acute phases in spring and summer.

This type of conjunctivitis must be diagnosed quickly since it can cause damage to the cornea (visible during a corneal topography), which will lose its transparency irreparably.

2 – Recognizing the symptoms of my allergic conjunctivitis

We have quickly presented the symptoms of the 4 forms of allergic conjunctivitis in the previous section, it is now time to learn more and be able to recognize them quickly.

Regardless of the origin of conjunctivitis, the common symptoms will be:

  • intense tingling ;
  • burning sensation ;
  • ocular hypersensitivity ;
  • swelling of the eyelids ;

You will notice that the conjunctiva reddens and may cause edema, which explains the swelling of the eyeball. We advise you to avoid scratching your eyes despite the strong itching sensation since this action will cause erythema.

Patients with conjunctivitis will have both eyes affected by these symptoms, sometimes with one eye more than the other.

In the case of seasonal and perennial allergic conjunctivitis, you will be subject to the following symptoms, in addition to the list above:

  • significant watering of the eyes, sometimes stringy ;
  • a rhinorrhea ;
  • itchiness

The symptoms of vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC) allergy are :

  • thick, stringy discharge ;
  • small painful ulcers ;
  • photophobia (hypersensitivity to light) ;
  • permanent decrease in vision

We wish to remind you that VKC is an ophthalmologic emergency: it is necessary to react quickly by making an appointment in order to treat it and avoid any aggravation!

3 – How to treat allergic conjunctivitis

First of all, it is necessary to make the right diagnosis. For this, if you have a medical history or other allergies, do not hesitate to inform your ophthalmologist. Sometimes, finding the cause of the allergy is complex, nevertheless, people suffering from allergic conjunctivitis can be cured thanks to treatments that we will present to you.

The proposed treatment(s) are adapted to the symptoms of the allergy as well as to its type:

  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drops ;
  • antihistamines, in oral or ocular form ;
  • mast cell stabilizers, in the form of eye drops ;
  • corticoids, in the form of drops.

For keratoconjunctivitis, immunosuppressants may be prescribed as alternatives to corticoids. For seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, a combination of antihistamines and mast cell stabilizing drops can be used. These treatments are without risk or specific side effects or adverse reactions.

And of course, strict hygiene to avoid secondary infection. We encourage you to :

  • wash your hands thoroughly ;
  • rinse your eyes with saline solution.

You have now discovered 3 key facts about allergic conjunctivitis! Dr. Stephanie Zwillinger’s COP9 team hopes to have made you aware of the symptoms of the different types of conjunctivitis, as well as the risks of infection if left untreated. Whether you have one or several symptoms, do not let them develop and consult your general practitioner and your ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

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