An estimated 20% of the overall population has some form of allergic conjunctivitis, and many don’t seek treatment. While it may be tempting to wait for symptoms to subside or rely on over-the-counter products, the doctors at the Eye Care Center of Kauai, in Lihue, Hawaii, encourage you to come in for an examination. It’s important to verify what’s causing your problem because eye allergy symptoms are the same as signs for other eye diseases, some of which can seriously damage your eyes.

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What are eye allergies?

Eye allergies develop the same way as other allergies. The body’s immune system overreacts to something in the environment and creates antibodies to the allergen (a substance that triggers your eye allergy). Then every time you come into contact with that allergen, your body releases substances that irritate your eyes.

What causes eye allergies?

Eye allergies can be triggered by irritation from contact lenses and preservatives in eye medications, but the most common cause is airborne substances, which includes many of the same allergens that cause seasonal allergies, such as:

  • Outdoor allergens: Pollen from trees, grass and weeds
  • Indoor allergens: Dust mites, mold, and pet danger
  • Irritants: Cigarette smoke, perfume

What are the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis?

One of the chief symptoms of eye allergies is itching in both eyes, but the longer list of symptoms you can expect to experience includes:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Burning
  • Clear, watery discharge (tearing)
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Burning
  • Mild sensitivity to light

When should you visit the Eye Care Center of Kauai for eye allergies?

The tricky part about eye allergies is that red, itchy, burning eyes can be caused by other eye diseases that may threaten your eyesight. It’s important to get an eye examination so that your doctor at the Eye Care Center of Kauai can verify whether you have allergies or another eye problem, then make sure you get the right treatment. For example, the same symptoms that occur with eye allergies could be caused by chronic dry eye and infectious conjunctivitis.

As a general rule, it’s time to schedule an appointment when over-the-counter treatments don’t give you enough relief, or when your symptoms just won’t go away.

How are eye allergies treated?

The first step is to identify the allergen that triggers your eye allergy and do your best to avoid it. That’s not always easy with airborne allergens, but you can keep windows closed, use air conditioning, wear glasses to reduce the amount of pollen that gets in your eyes, and use protective covers on bedding.

Allergens tend to collect on contact lenses. If you wear contact lenses, you may want to limit their use or switch to daily disposable lenses.

Artificial tears and prescription eye drops or oral medications containing antihistamines, decongestants or steroids can help relieve allergic conjunctivitis.

People with eye allergies often also have nasal allergies, so a prescription nose spray might help relieve both allergies.

If none of these measures work, you may want to consider allergy shots.