Allergies of the eye, like all allergies, are overreactions of the immune system to foreign substances, which might otherwise be harmless.
The eyes are the windows to the soul because they reflect our state of mind. But allergies can affect the eyes, too, causing red, itchy, burning, and watery eyes and swollen eyelids. Severe allergic eye symptoms can be very distressing and are a common reason for visits to the allergist, ophthalmologist, and even the emergency room. Occasionally, severe eye allergies cause serious damage that can threaten eyesight.
Many who have ocular allergies experience itching as the primary source of discomfort, though some people have no itchiness but instead experience a burning sensation and “eye fatigue” that causes them to rub their eyes.
Who Gets Allergies?
The tendency to develop allergies is often hereditary, which means it can be passed down through your genes. However, just because you, your partner, or one of your children might have allergies doesn’t mean that all of your kids will definitely get them, too. And someone usually doesn’t inherit a particular allergy, just the likelihood of having allergies.
But a few kids have allergies even if no family member is allergic. And a child who is allergic to one substance is likely to be allergic to others.
What Causes Eye Allergies?
Normally harmless substances that cause problems for individuals who are predisposed to allergic reactions are called allergens. The most common airborne allergens that cause eye allergies are pollen, mold, dust and pet dander.
Eye allergies also can be caused by reactions to certain cosmetics or eye drops, including artificial tears used for treating dry eyes that contain preservatives.
Food allergies and allergic reactions to bee stings or other insect bites typically do not affect the eyes as severely as airborne allergens do.
What Symptoms of Eye Allergies?
In persons with eye allergies, the immune system overreacts to an allergen and produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies that cause mast cells to release histamine and other chemicals, which results in an allergic reaction. The reaction often manifests as:
Allergies can cause itchiness due to the histamine your body produces to help combat a particular allergen. Allergies can also cause your eyes to itch when you come in contact with an allergen. For example, an allergy to pollen can cause eye itchiness just from walking outside on a spring day when pollen levels may be high. Eye itchiness is particularly bothersome in women who wear eye makeup.
Swelling around the eyes can result from irritation associated with allergies. Allergens can cause eye puffiness in approximately 40 percent of eye allergy patients. Puffiness is prevalent underneath the eyes but can also be noticeable on your eyelids. The foundation says that allergy sufferers who wear contact lenses are the most likely to incur eye swelling.
Your eyes may respond to allergens by turning red. Redness associated with eye allergies is the most common cause of a misdiagnosis of conjunctivitis. Pink eye is often bright red in appearance. Eye allergies cause a pinkish to light-red color that is not as obvious. Eye redness disappears from using eye drops. However, All About Vision reports that untreated eye allergies can cause conjunctivitis over time.
Eye allergies can cause your eyes to water, due to dryness. Your eyes can also create a discharge in response to the dryness. Unlike the yellow-tinged discharge often associated with pink eye, eye allergies can cause a clear or white discharge. When you wake up, this type of discharge can dry out and cake at the corners of your eyes.