Q: What are the common symptoms of allergies?
Dr. Viker: The most common symptoms of allergies are red, watery itchy eyes, nasal congestion, and sneezing.
Q: How do allergies affect the eyes?
Dr. Viker: Allergies cause the eyes to become red and irritated. Oftentimes, patients report that their eyes water during allergy season, become itchy and can sometimes appear swollen.
Q: What is meant by the term allergic conjunctivitis? Is that the same as “pink eye?”
Dr. Viker: Allergic conjunctivitis is the technical term for eye allergies. The conjunctiva is the smooth clear covering over the whites of our eyes. When the eye is exposed to an allergen, like pollen or dust, the conjunctiva becomes inflamed and irritated. Part of this irritation makes the eye look red or pink so allergic conjunctivitis is sometimes referred to as “pink eye.” This should not be confused with a bacterial or viral infection of the eyes which can be quite serious and/or contagious. This is why seeing your eye doctor promptly for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan is so important.
Q: What is the difference between seasonal and perennial allergies? How would I know the difference?
Dr. Viker: The difference is how long the allergy period lasts. Seasonal allergies are generally experienced in the spring and fall. Seasonal allergies are due to a specific type of allergen being in the outdoors, for example, many people are allergic to ragweed which occurs from mid-August until the first hard frost in Minnesota. Perennial allergies happen any time of the year, for example, an allergy to pet dander.
Q: Can allergies do permanent damage to my eyes?
Dr. Viker: Not typically. In rare cases where patients rub their eyes vigorously over a long period of time, the stress to the cornea can lead to a disease that causes the cornea to thin and take on an irregular shape, called keratoconus.
Q: What are the treatment options available for this condition?
Dr. Viker: Eye allergies are most commonly treated with prescription or over the counter eye drops. Modifying a person’s environment to minimize exposure to the allergen is also beneficial in reducing or alleviating allergy symptoms. For patients that wear contact lenses, wearing daily disposable lenses can help make wearing contact lenses during allergy season more comfortable.