Treating The Source Of Your Allergic Conjunctivitis

Dec 13, 2021
 – Eduardo Besser, MD
  • Eye Health

Learn how to treat the source of allergic conjunctivitis, and what approach offers the best possible outcome for patients.

Allergic conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue that covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids, caused by an allergic reaction. It is an extremely common condition with plenty of treatments, some of which you can even ask for over the counter.

Although it might seem that treating allergic conjunctivitis is manageable enough for patients to treat it themselves, the biggest issue is that many people rely on antihistamines and eye drops to relieve their symptoms. This is just a band-aid temporary solution — not recommended to be used long-term.

Since allergic conjunctivitis stems from an allergy, determining what causes the allergic reaction is imperative in determining the best course of treatment. Before any treatment can be recommended, your doctor will perform an ocular allergy test.

We’ll dive into how to treat the source of and learn why this approach offers the best possible outcome to patients.

What is ocular allergy testing?

Ocular allergy testing is a fast and painless procedure that doesn’t require needles and only takes a few minutes to perform. It helps your ophthalmologist determine what substance triggers your ocular allergy or whether your reaction is caused by certain medications.

Dr. Besser uses the Doctor’s Rx Allergy Formula diagnostic test kit, which tests for the 60 most common allergens of the region. Other than identifying the allergens causing your eyes to react, this kit also differentiates among ocular allergies, dry eyes, and blepharitis — which is important because they share similar symptoms.

And speaking of ocular allergies, let’s see which are the two main types of allergic conjunctivitis.

Types of allergic conjunctivitis

There are two main types of allergic conjunctivitis:

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis

Usually occurs during the spring and summer months, sometimes during the first months of autumn, but disappears during the cold season. The cause of the allergy is usually pollen, grass, or seasonal airborne allergens, which are absent during the last months of fall, winter, and the first months of spring.

Perennial allergic conjunctivitis

It occurs all year round. It is usually connected to indoor allergens like dust, pet dander, and mold spores.

Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis

The most common symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis that make patients seek treatment may include some or all of the following:

  • Intense itching of the eyes, which triggers the urge to rub eyes

  • Watery or white mucus discharge

  • Red eyes

  • Swollen eyelids

These symptoms are present in both eyes, which helps in the initial diagnosis. In pink eye conjunctivitis — which is the infection of the conjunctiva — symptoms might be present in one eye only.

Since the eyes and nose are closely connected, the eye symptoms in allergic conjunctivitis are also accompanied by respiratory symptoms. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Runny nose

  • Itchy nose

  • Sneezing

These symptoms also negatively affect the patient's general state, so it is very important to treat allergic conjunctivitis as quickly as possible.

Diagnosing allergic conjunctivitis

Ophthalmologists can diagnose allergic conjunctivitis after examining the patient.

However, while the symptoms are many times enough to confirm the main diagnosis, an additional examination is required to determine the source of the allergy. Identifying the allergen is essential for the correct treatment of allergic conjunctivitis. This can be done by performing blood and skin allergy tests.

Treating allergic conjunctivitis

Before identifying what the allergen is, your doctor can only prescribe a general treatment for allergic conjunctivitis. This typically includes anti-allergy eye drops or oral medication, artificial tears, and cold compress. However, this type of treatment can and should not be taken for long periods of time.

Identifying the allergen opens the door to comprehensive treatment for allergic conjunctivitis including:

Avoiding the allergen and responding appropriately to exposure

Knowing what causes allergic conjunctivitis is the first step in treatment, by helping patients avoid the allergen. For instance, if patients know that they are allergic to dust or pet dander, they can take action to distance themselves from the causing agent.

Moreover, when they do come into contact with the allergen, they can take immediate action and wash their eyes thoroughly to reduce the intensity of the allergic reaction.

Pollen

If patients know that they are allergic to a specific type of pollen, for instance, they should avoid the flower or tree that carries it. They can also have anti-allergy medication ready for the time of the year when the plant or tree is in bloom.

Dust

Patients who have dust allergies can eliminate dust-carrying items in their homes, such as drapes and carpets. They can also use additional cleaning accessories for deep cleaning to keep dust levels in their homes to a minimum.

Pets

Cat and dog allergies are not caused by their fur, as you might think, but by the animal's saliva, dander, and urine. The fur serves as a mere carrier. Keep in mind that hypoallergenic cats and dog breeds are just a myth as, even in the case of animals with no hair at all, the causing agent remains present.

Patients who are allergic to pets usually find themselves in a very complicated situation as most of them refuse to find a new home for the pet. Luckily, in most cases, allergic conjunctivitis can be managed.

Additional measures that will help

Aside from the medication, some lifestyle habits might make the treatment more efficient. Here are some of the ones we find the most useful:

Washing your face and eyes after exposure to the allergen

This helps because it minimizes contact with the allergen by clearing away a large part of it. Patients should always use clean water to wash their face and a clean towel to dry.

Showering before bedtime

Patients with allergic conjunctivitis who wear contact lenses must clean their lenses and cases frequently to avoid direct contact with an allergen. They should change contact solutions daily to ensure the proper state of the lenses.

Frequently washing clothes

This helps because it eliminates allergens from the patient's clothes. Allergens like pollen can persist on clothing items and cause the allergic reaction to reappear if the patient wears an item of clothing with allergen remnants on it. Washing clothing frequently is particularly important for managing seasonal allergies.

Keeping contact lenses and cases clean

This helps because it eliminates allergens from the patient's clothes. Allergens like pollen can persist on clothing items and cause the allergic reaction to reappear if the patient wears an item of clothing with allergen remnants on it. Washing clothing frequently is particularly important for managing seasonal allergies.

The principle for allergy immunotherapy is to administer small amounts of the allergen over a longer period of time to help the body develop a health response. While it is efficient, it takes time to see results. Traditionally, this entails the doctor administering the allergen as a shot, but in some cases, sublingual immunotherapy might be an option.

Allergic conjunctivitis can be managed

As is the case with most allergies, allergic conjunctivitis can be managed but not cured. With immunotherapy, there is a chance that, in time, the intensity of the allergic reaction will be reduced significantly, which is the closest thing to a cure.

Eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis

It can also be managed with over-the-counter anti-allergy eye drops or oral medication and artificial tears, which should be administered according to the doctor's prescription and when the allergic reaction occurs.

Over time, after performing ocular allergy testing, your doctor will prescribe several types of anti-allergy medicine as patients can develop resistance to the medication they've been taking for longer periods of time.

Why treating the cause of allergic conjunctivitis is the best course of action

Treating the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis can seem like the easier option, and it can work well sometimes. But, in time, using general treatments only might not be the best for the patient.

Firstly, it may be the more expensive option, as the cost of the anti-allergy medication adds up. Secondly, it is not the most efficient option because patients do not know when to expect the allergic reaction or how to prevent it. Considering that allergies cannot be 100% cured, knowing the cause is the best starting point for efficient management.

FAQ

How do you get rid of allergic conjunctivitis fast?

While you can get rid of the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis using anti-allergy eye drops or oral medication, there is no definitive treatment for the disease. Preventing contact with the allergen is the most efficient way to keep allergic conjunctivitis at bay. Allergy immunotherapy can also be efficient in reducing the severity of the allergic reaction.

How long does it take for allergic conjunctivitis to go away?

This depends on whether or not the patient can eliminate contact with the allergen. If the patient is no longer in contact with the causing agent, the medicine will clear the symptoms quickly.

However, if the patient remains in contact with the allergen, then even with anti-allergy medication, the symptoms will persist. The medication will reduce the symptoms, but it can't eliminate the allergic reaction.

What is the first-line treatment for allergic conjunctivitis?

The first line of treatment for allergic conjunctivitis is administering anti-allergy eye drops and/or oral medication to reduce the inflammation in the eyes — and the itching. Additionally, artificial tears must be administered periodically to keep the eye clean and reduce allergen contact.

What eye drops are used for allergic conjunctivitis?

The eye drops used to treat allergic conjunctivitis have anti-allergy medicine that is quickly absorbed in the eye. Aside from these, patients must also administer artificial tears to compensate for the effects of the local inflammation and to clean their eyes.

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Looking to learn more about the treatment for allergic conjunctivitis? Contact us today and come meet us in our office.

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