Types of Eye Allergies

Dr. Russel Lazarus, February 7, 2021
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Up to 25 percent of people worldwide suffer from eye allergies.

If you suffer from eye allergies, you may be wondering what is causing your itchy, sore, watery eyes.

Common causes of eye allergies include:

  • Outdoor allergens: pollens from grass, weeds, and trees
  • Indoor allergens: dust mites, pet dander, and mold
  • Irritants: cigarette smoke, diesel exhaust, and perfume

Since your eyes can react to a wide range of allergens, the only way to find out what is causing your allergies is to get tested by an allergy specialist.

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Different types of eye allergies

There are many different types of allergies:

  • Seasonal/perennial allergic conjunctivitis
  • Vernal keratoconjunctivitis
  • Atopic keratoconjunctivitis
  • Contact allergic conjunctivitis
  • Giant papillary conjunctivitis

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) is the most common type of eye allergy.

Allergy symptoms are experienced in spring, summer, or fall— depending on the type of plant pollen in the air.

Symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Watery discharge
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Sensitivity to bright lights

These signs and symptoms usually present with a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, and other typical hay fever symptoms.

Perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC) 

Perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC) occurs year-round. This type of allergy is caused by reactions to dust mites, mold, pet dander or other household irritants. Perennial allergic conjunctivitis produces the same symptoms as SAC, though they tend to be more mild.

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a more severe eye allergy than SAC or PAC. It can occur year-round, but symptoms may worsen during certain seasons. This type of allergy is most prevalent in boys and young men.

Symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Significant tearing
  • Production of thick mucus
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eczema or asthma

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis can be harmful to your vision if not treated properly.

Atopic keratoconjunctivitis

Atopic keratoconjunctivitis predominantly affects older with a history of allergic dermatitis. This type of allergy can produce symptoms year-round that are similar to those of vernal keratoconjunctivitis.

Symptoms include:

  • Severe itching
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Thick mucus discharge
  • Eyelids that stick together

Atopic keratoconjunctivitis can result in scarring of the cornea if not treated properly.

Contact allergic conjunctivitis

Contact allergic conjunctivitis can result from eye irritation caused by contact lenses or by the proteins from tears that attach to the surface of the lens.

Symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Lens discomfort
  • Mucous discharge

Giant papillary conjunctivitis

Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a severe form of contact allergic conjunctivitis and is associated with contact lenses. This type of allergy occurs when individual fluid sacs (papules) form in the upper lining of the inner eyelid.

Symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Tearing
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Mucous discharge
  • Blurred vision
  • Discomfort from contact lenses
  • Foreign body sensation

What can you do to relieve your eye allergies?

If you suffer from eye allergies, there are a variety of treatments that can help to alleviate your discomfort.

Schedule an eye exam to discuss which type of treatment will be most effective in relieving your allergy symptoms.

The sooner you begin to treat your symptoms, the sooner you will start to feel like yourself again.