Allergic Conjunctivitis is a broad group of allergic conditions involving inflammation of the thin membrane that covers the inside of the eyelids and the eye, known as the conjunctiva. The more common conditions are mild and do not affect the cornea, but the rarer diseases do involve the cornea and can be sight- threatening.
People with allergic conjunctivitis experience itching, burning, watering and redness of the eye, and most people with these symptoms also have allergic rhinitis (hayfever). Allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by the same allergens that trigger allergic rhinitis.
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by pollen in the air during Spring and early Summer and the pattern and plants causing it will vary from region to region. In Australia, grass pollen is the most common cause and the effects can be quite dramatic and debilitating.
Perennial allergic conjunctivitis, usually accompanied by chronic nasal symptoms, is a milder form of conjunctivitis and symptoms are usually present most of the year. In Australia, house dust mite is the most common allergen causing this, but exposure to mould and animal allergens may also be responsible.
Occasionally, in animal allergic individuals, introduction of animal hair into the eye by touching or rubbing can set off a very dramatic and severe acute reaction in the eye.
The diagnosis of Allergic Conjunctivitis is made by your medical practitioner when typical symptoms are present. An examination of the conjunctiva reveals typical changes and allergy tests confirm the presence of sensitivity to common allergens.
Management begins with allergen minimization - consider house dust mite minimisation (eg. regular damp dusting, washing bedding in hot water) and removal of pets from the house in sensitive people. Many people will require medication. Most common forms of conjunctivitis may be managed with specific antihistamine eye drops-the modern ones are highly effective and long-acting. Drops are more effective than oral antihistamines in this condition. For individuals with persistent, severe allergic conjunctivitis a referral to an allergy specialist to discuss allergen immunotherapy should be considered. Treating allergic rhinitis that is usually present can be beneficial.
More serious forms of allergic eye disease must be managed by specialist eye doctors and allergy specialists.
For more helpful information on Allergic Conjunctivitis go to https://www.allergy.org.au/images/pcc/ASCIA_PCC_Allergic_conjunctivitis_2015.pdf
Prepared by Prof CH Katelaris Oct 2012
Reviewed SV 10/7/2018