Allergic conjunctivitis

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 16, 2016
StartDiseasesAllergic conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis (also called pink eye) is a common eye condition. Pink eye is easily diagnosed and treatable, but different forms of the condition may require different treatments. Overall, conjunctivitis is not considered a serious threat to community health. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. It may be difficult to tell which type of conjunctivitis is present, and because various types require different treatments, it is important to consult a doctor for diagnosis, especially when symptoms are severe. 


Definition & Facts

The tissue around the inside of the eyelid is called the conjunctiva, and when it becomes inflamed, a person is said to have conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a virus, bacteria, allergens. Viral infections and bacterial infections can stem from sexually transmitted diseases like herpes or chlamydia.

Allergic conjunctivitis is the body's response to and protection from harmful substances. Conjunctivitis is caused by exposure to allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores and animal dander. Some people also develop conjunctivitis from exposure to smoke or dirt.

Symptoms & Complaints

There are several symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, including a swollen eyelid, redness in the inner eyelid, redness in the white of the eye, itchiness, blurred vision, and an excessive amount of tears.

Some people may feel as if they have grit or sand in their eye(s). The most prominent feature of allergic conjunctivitis is itchy eyes. When a patient has allergic conjunctivitis, the previous symptoms are seen in both eyes, though symptoms may be more prevalent in one eye than the other. When these symptoms are severe, it's best to consult a professional healthcare provider, such as an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.

Some pink eye symptoms are more serious and severe than others. If a person has any of the following symptoms, he or she should seek medical help as soon as possible:

  • A high fever along with facial pain, chills, and loss of vision
  • Intense pain in the eye(s) when looking into light
  • Unusual vision problems, such as blurriness, double vision (diplopia), or halos around objects
  • There is a yellow or green discharge from the eye(s)
  • Eyelids are stuck together when a person wakes up, or there is a crusty substance around the eyes


Some allergic conjunctivitis patients have seasonal allergies. For instance, those allergic to pollen might experience symptoms of pink eye in the springtime when the pollen count is highest. Others may experience symptoms that last all year, depending on the cause of the allergy. Some people experience allergic reactions as a response to allergens in perfumes, makeup or detergents.

Diagnosis & Tests

Allergic conjunctivitis might seem to be easily diagnosable when the above symptoms are present; however, the symptoms can sometimes be indicative of another condition. For instance, a sty in the eye or an infection in the gland or skin around the eye could also cause symptoms of conjunctivitis. For this reason, conjunctivitis should only be diagnosed by a healthcare professional.

Because pink eye can be caused by so many different substances, healthcare professionals may conduct a physical examination or test to diagnose pink eye. Drainage from the infected eye may be sent to a lab to test it for bacteria.

Treatment & Therapy

There are several methods for treating allergic conjunctivitis. The most common way is to avoid the substances that cause the allergic reaction. Patients should consult an allergy specialist to learn what their allergic triggers are.

While symptomatic, those who wear contact lenses should remove them. Keeping them in could irritate the eyes even more. Holding a cold compress to the eye could relieve some symptoms. Nonprescription artificial tears are available over-the-counter. Artificial tears are eye drops that can be used to relieve the burning and itching sensations.

Artificial tears should only be used for a few days. Using them for a lengthy period could cause eyes to become agitated and redden. One should consult one's doctor if, after a few days, symptoms have worsened rather than cleared. The following is a list of tips to reduce the amount of allergens in a home and relieve symptoms:

  • Wash towels, bed linens and pillowcases in hot water
  • Don't reuse the same towels or face cloths without washing them first
  • Wear glasses rather than contact lenses
  • Always wash hands before applying eye drops
  • Avoid touching or rubbing the eyes

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Some causes of conjunctivitis can be avoided or at least partially avoided. Hypoallergenic products can be substituted in place of traditional perfumes, laundry soaps, and makeup. People who are allergic to pet dander or pet hair should wash their hands immediately after touching or grooming a pet. Others may be too allergic to own a pet or even handle one.

Aside from avoiding substances that trigger an allergic reaction, there are several other things a person can do to keep the condition from worsening in the eye(s). Taking a warm compress, such as a hand towel soaked in warm water, and holding it gently against the eye for several minutes may provide relief. One could do this several times daily. It may also remove any crusted matter that has gathered around the eye(s).