Seasonal allergies can hit you without warning. If you’ve ever dealt with hay fever in the past, then you already know what you’re up against, but have you ever dealt with allergic conjunctivitis? This form of pink eye can go on for weeks without proper treatment and can cause a variety of symptoms.
So, can allergies cause eye discharge? Yes. For some people, allergies and eye discharge can go hand in hand, whether it’s caused by seasonal allergies, or an allergic reaction to something in the environment. Seasonal conjunctivitis is a common type of ocular allergy. It’s caused by an allergic reaction to pollen, which releases spores in the spring and summer months. The most prominent symptom is eye redness, but discharge is also common. If you normally experience allergies during the spring and summer, aside from eye discharge you may also deal with a runny nose, sore throat, and eye pain and headache, or dry eyes from time to time. Fortunately, with the right medication and a few home remedies, you can easily manage your seasonal allergies. However, those who have allergic pink eye that’s due to an environmental allergen may have a tough time identifying the culprit, which can make it almost impossible to manage symptoms.
An In-Depth Look at Allergies
An eye allergy can hit you when you least expect it. It occurs when an irritant makes contact with the conjunctiva, a very thin membrane that covers the inside of the eyelid and the eye itself. Just like with any type of allergy, an eye allergy will start when your immune system considers a certain substance an allergen.
So, what happens next? The immune system will produce immunoglobulin antibodies, which will travel to cells throughout the body and release chemicals that will cause an allergic reaction. With an eye allergy, this results in eyes that ache, feel tender, itch, water, and produce discharge. Swelling is also usually present. Seasonal allergies, which involves an allergic reaction to pollen, seem to be the most common, however, many people also experience an allergic reaction to mould spores as well. People that have a history of seasonal rhinitis may also notice that their symptoms tend to worsen the moment they step outdoors, especially on windy days.
But it’s not just allergens outdoors that can cause painful red, irritated eyes. Allergens can also be found indoors in the form of pet dander and dust mites.
The many symptoms associated with an eye allergy can be very distressing since they can be hard to mask. It can also be very embarrassing in the workplace if you’re trying to hide eye discharge and swelling. But unlike the bacterial, or viral pink eye, this form of pink eye is not contagious. Yet it shares many of the same symptoms as that of the highly contagious form of pink eye, which is one of the many reasons it can be so stressful to go about your normal day to day routine.
Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis
This type of pink eye can occur year-round. As I mentioned, it’s due to an allergic reaction to something present in the environment, including:
- Pet dander
- Air freshener
- Essential oils
- Cleaning products
And other allergens. The symptoms are much milder than seasonal pink eye but tend to also include eye swelling, irritation, discharge, and itchiness. If you are experiencing more than one of the symptoms listed above, especially discharge or swelling, then you should make an appointment with your primary care physician or optometrist for an assessment.
In the past, there wasn’t much to be done to treat seasonal allergies. Instead of medicated eye drops and oral medication, people had to rely on hot compresses to find relief. These days, there are several treatment options available, such as:
Treatment options are often based on how severe or mild your symptoms are. Histamines are the most common symptom associated with seasonal allergies, which is why antihistamine use can be very effective in minimizing or eliminating the symptoms altogether. You may still deal with certain allergy symptoms runny as watery eyes and a runny nose, however, in comparison, these symptoms will be very mild. To learn how to better manage your symptoms be sure to read my guide on how to relieve watery eyes.
An Accurate Diagnosis
For an accurate diagnosis, most physicians will recommend skin testing if they are unable to pinpoint the cause of conjunctivitis. Seasonal and bacterial pink eye are easy enough to diagnose, but allergic conjunctivitis can be tricky, especially since most people tend to develop an allergic response to pet dander or dust, over time.
In order to rule out certain conditions, your eye health specialist may perform some of the following tests:
Using a special type of microscope called a slit lamp, the physician will examine the front of your eyes, searching for eyelid swelling, conjunctival swelling, and dilated blood vessels. These are all indications that the underlying cause of your eye irritation is due to an allergic response.
In severe cases, the physician may need to check for eosinophils. This is done by scraping the conjunctiva. Eosinophils is a white blood cell that’s associated with allergies.
The allergy specialist may also perform other types of tests that can help to identify the root cause of the allergic reaction. This will usually involve a finger prick test. Other blood work may be needed to test for certain types of allergic antibodies.
Minimizing your exposure to these allergens can significantly improve symptoms, however, eliminating exposure can clear up any symptoms completely, but this isn’t always possible.
Different Types of Eye Drops
Over the counter and prescription drops can be used to treat this type of allergy. Drops that are available by prescription only can provide long or short term relief of symptoms. If you’ve been dealing with your allergies for more than a period of two weeks with no relief from over the counter medications, then it’s time to make an appointment with an allergist.
A child can also be treated with prescription or over the counter medications. Products such as artificial tears are generally safe for children of all ages, just as long as they’re preservative-free. Some types of drops, such as the antihistamine drops can only be used in children over the ages of two or three. To learn more, click here to read my article on what causes eye discharge in babies.
Artificial tears: These drops work by washing allergens out of the eyes while helping to keep them moist and protected. This is especially important after the eyes have become red, dry, and irritated. These drops can also be kept in your fridge for a boost in relief. My guide to red eyes can explain further, regarding other ways you can instantly reduce redness and irritation.
Decongestants: This is another popular treatment option since it’s fast-acting and can provide immediate relief. These drops will minimize discharge and redness as they quickly and efficiently reduce the size of the blood vessels in the eyes. You can also find decongestant drops that contain antihistamines for twice the allergy-fighting power. These drops should not be used for longer than seventy-two hours since ongoing use can cause what is referred to as the rebound effect. When this occurs, you’ll notice an increase in symptoms that can last for several days after you’ve ceased using the drops. This also occurs with decongestant nasal drops.
Antihistamines in oral form: Always be careful when using antihistamines since they can worsen symptoms in some people. They can also cause certain side effects such as drowsiness or dizziness.
Antihistamine drops: In drop form, antihistamines tend to be more effective, since they don’t have to first go through the digestive tract, then the liver, before they’re released into the bloodstream. Instead, you’ll apply them directly to the affected area, for immediate relief from itching and irritation.
NSAID drops: These drops can help with swelling and itching. However, they can cause a slight burning sensation that some people will find unpleasant.
If you’re dealing with a serious eye allergy, your doctor may opt for more aggressive treatment in the form of mast cell stabilizers or steroids.
Mast cell stabilizers: These drops have the ability to cause changes to occur in cells in the body that contain histamines. However, this type of treatment may take several days or weeks before you experience the full effects. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, your doctor may prescribe the drug several weeks before allergy season is expected to hit. This means the medication will be in full effect just in time for spring.
Corticosteroid drops: These drops can be prescribed to provide faster relief. However, they aren’t the go-to treatment for eye allergies since prolonged use can cause cataracts and glaucoma.
How to Determine if You’re Really Dealing with Allergies
While both bacterial pink eye and allergic conjunctivitis are two very different things, they do have some of the same symptoms, which is what can make your condition difficult to diagnose. The symptoms for both allergies and bacterial pink eye can look the same. Both will cause eye discharge, tearing eyes, and redness. The difference between the two all boils down to the root cause of the conjunctiva inflammation. Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by a variety of irritants including exposure to chemicals, pet dander, or pollen. Your doctor should be able to determine which type of pink eye you have by learning more about your medical history and examining your eyes.
With allergic conjunctivitis, the eyes will feel tender and itchy. The person affected may also have that classic gritty feeling in the eye, with some swelling present. A runny nose and sneezing are also common. However, this can also be caused by viral conjunctivitis which presents much in the same way that allergic conjunctivitis does, however, it can resolve on its own in just a few days. To learn more, you can read my guide on can a cold cause eye discharge.
Bumps on the eyelids can also indicate seasonal allergies, however, the bumps can also be mistaken for styes. Styes are unsightly bumps that are painful, and inflamed. You may only have one bump, or you can have dozens covering your eyelids. While these growths don’t look very pleasant, they’re not exactly life-threatening. Fortunately, in most cases, these bumps will go away on their own, without medical treatment. That is, as long as a secondary infection doesn’t occur. An experienced physician will be able to determine papillae from styes. Papillaes are bumps that often indicate allergies and are found under the eyelids. These bumps can also be very uncomfortable and can be responsible for that gritty feeling in the eyes that some people experience during allergy season.
Blepharitis is an eye condition that can easily be misdiagnosed as allergies because it shares many of the same signs and symptoms. However, this condition primarily affects the eyelids. Discharge is usually present and can cause the eyes to become crusted shut during the night. Crust can often be found stuck to the eyelashes as well. This condition is caused by inflammation found at the very base of the eyelashes.
Unfortunately, chronic blepharitis is the most common form and it can flare up without warning. Treatment often consists of washing the eyes two to three times daily for several days and using artificial tears and hot compresses until symptoms subside. If you’re dealing with the chronic form of blepharitis, click here to read my guide on how to get rid of blepharitis for good.
Discharge-Can Allergies Cause Yellow Discharge?
The answer is yes. Discharge due to allergies is usually yellow or white in color. It can range from mild to severe, causing you to frequently wipe your eyes to prevent blurred vision. Using hot compresses can help to cut down on discharge production and can even help to reduce any swelling that’s present.
But what is eye discharge exactly? It’s a combination of skin cells, oil, and mucus that accumulates in and around the eyes during sleep. Discharge is usually crusty, sticky, and wet. Eye discharge, which is also called rheum, removes waste and harmful debris from the eyes as we sleep. Did you know that the eyes actually produce mucus around the clock? However, a continuous film of tears will cleanse the eyes whenever you blink, working to flush out the mucus before it is able to harden.
When we sleep, the discharge is able to collect and dry, since the tears cannot wash away the rheum since we don’t blink when we sleep. This is where the term sleep in your eyes comes from. Most types of discharge produced by the eyes consist of meibum, which is an oily substance that comes from the meibomian glands, and a watery, thin mucus that’s made by the conjunctiva.
When Discharge is Not Normal
While it’s normal to wake up with some crust in the eyes and lashes, an excessive amount can indicate allergies or an infection, especially if the discharge is yellow or green in color. Pain, light sensitivity, and blurry vision can also be indicative of allergies or an infection. So, while eyes that are slightly crusted in the morning shouldn’t set off any alarms, if you notice a change in the color of the discharge, or your eyes are crusted shut, then you will need to make an appointment with your physician to determine if you’re dealing with allergies or an infection.
You can use a warm compress over your eyes to help relieve some itchiness and discomfort, while also removing built-up discharge. If you wake in the morning with your eyelids crusted together, use a hot wet washcloth to gently soften up and remove the dried on discharge, doing so carefully can prevent further irritation.
Eye Allergies Pain
You don’t hear about it as often as the discharge, but pain can also be a symptom of allergies. With the eyes, pain can take the form of a dull ache, throbbing, or pressure, in or around the eyes. The eyes can also become very tender from rubbing or wiping since the skin around the eyes is already tender and somewhat inflamed. Typically, an over the counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen, should be enough to manage this type of pain. Additionally, learning how to soothe irritated skin around the eyes and eyelids can also help to minimize pain and discomfort. Aloe vera gel, coconut oil, or even Vaseline, can help to protect the sensitive skin around the eyes from further irritation and damage.
In some cases, when the pain is severe and accompanied by swelling, tearing, discharge, and redness, there is something more serious going on than an infection or allergies. In this case, medical treatment should be sought immediately.
Eyes that constantly itch can be pretty maddening. Rubbing or scratching at your eyes can worsen symptoms, increase their overall itchiness, and can even damage the eyes. Fortunately, if itching is the main symptom you’re dealing with then there are a few home remedies you can try that have a reputation for being effective in mild to moderate cases. If your symptoms are severe enough to affect your vision or impact your day to day life then make sure you make an appointment with your doctor.
Over the counter eye drops can help to reduce itchy eyes, especially if they contain antihistamines. However, for milder cases, plain artificial tears can also help.
A cold compress three to four times a day can help soothe the eyes and relieve itching. To do, use a clean wet washcloth and place it over your eyes for ten to twenty minutes. This treatment can be repeated as often as needed.
Itchy eyes will not last very long and often resolve on their own. However, you should see your doctor if:
- You have a gritty feeling in your eyes
- Swelling is present
- Your vision is affected
- Itching is accompanied by pain
Scratching and rubbing your eyes will not only worsen symptoms, but it can also damage the delicate skin around and under the eyes. This is especially true in men and women over the age of forty who use anti-aging products that can actually make this skin even more sensitive. Read my guide on how to get rid of wrinkles under your eyes when you smile. This guide will discuss how to safely treat aging skin and improve its firmness and texture, without causing eye irritation.
How to Stop Watery Eyes from Allergies
Do you know how to relieve watery eyes? Since allergies are pretty common these days, there are many over the counter drops to choose from that are specifically designed to reduce tearing caused by allergies. If your symptoms are mild, you can get by with some over the counter drops for some fast relief. These drops work really well and can be reapplied every two hours. They’re also a more affordable solution to prescription eye drops.
However, if you’re dealing with severe symptoms, swelling, irritation on and around the eyes due to constant tearing and discharge, then it may be time to make an appointment with your physician. Your doctor will prescribe stronger medication that can help you get the tearing under control, reduce the itchiness and swelling, and allow you to get on with your day.
If the treatments listed above are not effective in treating your conjuncitivitis then your doctor may prescribe immunotherapy. This will require you to see an allergy specialist who will inject you with allergens in order to help you build up an immunity, gradually. This can work to significantly reduce the severity of your allergic reactions.
This condition can cause severe changes in vision due to inflammation that occurs to both the cornea and the conjunctiva. This type of pink eye typically affects men more commonly than women. It’s also commonly found in people who have atopic dermatitis during their adolescence. This condition causes eye discharge, redness, and itchiness. The discharge is so significant that it can cause the eyelids to crust and scale. In some cases, the affected person may also become very sensitive to light and will develop very thick eyelids. Without treatment, permanent scarring can occur on the corneas because of the frequent scratching and rubbing that most people give into since this form of conjunctivitis is even more itchy and uncomfortable than bacterial or viral pink eye.
So what causes this type of pink eye, exactly? An allergic reaction to wheat, soy, milk, peanuts, and eggs can be to blame, as can certain airborne allergens such as pet dander and dust mites.
Treatment can consist of strong antihistamines to control the itching, as well as mast cell stabilizers and steroids. In severe cases, the affected person may contract a staph infection, which will worsen the symptoms. In this case, antibiotics would also be prescribed. In ten percent of cases, when left untreated, this type of pink eye resulted in cataract formation. In very rare cases, permanent blindness occurred.
Managing Your Allergies
You’ve read about the different types of pink eye, how eye allergies can affect you from day to day, and some of the common treatment options available. You now know there is a difference between indoor allergies and seasonal allergies, although both types share many of the same symptoms. So, now what?
The first step toward getting a handle on your allergies is obviously avoiding any type of allergen that can trigger the symptoms. In some cases, eliminating the offending allergen can be enough to get rid of symptoms, but for some people, pinpointing exactly what is causing this onset of symptoms can be almost impossible.
If you’re aware of what’s causing an allergic reaction, then you’re one step closer to getting the relief you deserve. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make your home allergen-free. There are also some great tips and tricks you can follow that can help to reduce your seasonal allergy symptoms whether you’re dealing with hay fever or indoor allergens.
- If you’re dealing with seasonal allergies, try to stay inside as much as you can, especially when the pollen count is at a higher level than usual. This type of peak typically occurs around midmorning and at dusk. Of course, you’ll also want to avoid going outside on windy days.
- Never place a box fan in the window since this can draw in pollen and mold spores.
- When outside, always protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses. This can help to reduce the chances of pollen getting in your eyes.
- Avoid scratching and rubbing your eyes, which will only worsen the symptoms and irritation.
- If possible, only use air conditioning in your house or when you’re in the car. Avoid opening any windows.
- If you’re allergic to dust mites, purchase sheets, blankets, and pillowcases that are mite-proof. Your bedding should be washed in hot water once or twice weekly.
- If you’re allergic to mold spores then it’s crucial that you lower the humidity level in the home. You can purchase a dehumidifier and make sure you clean your kitchen and bathroom at least once a week. If you’re dealing with visible mold in the home then use a mixture of bleach and water to kill it. Just be sure that while doing so you wear a face mask and gloves.
- If you’re allergic to pet dander, then try to keep it outdoors as much as possible. If your animal is a strictly indoor pet then at the very least, do not allow it to sleep in bed with you or lay on the furniture. Always wash your hands after touching the pet and wash your clothes twice a week.
- Closing the air ducts to your bedroom can also help to cut down on the amount of pet dander that finds its way into your personal space.
- Instead of carpet in the home, if you’re dealing with a pet dander allergy, opt for tile, vinyl, or hardwood flooring.
- If the allergist has identified dust mites as the culprit, you can use a dehumidifier to lower the humidity levels in the home since mites tend to thrive in humid environments.
- Use a HEPA filter
- Bathe your pets one to two times a week depending on the season. Shedding season your pet should be bathed more often.
- If mold in the home is causing an allergic response insure that there is no standing water or water leaks, especially in your basement.
Since the majority of allergens that can worsen symptoms are airborne, it can be difficult to avoid them. Speak with your physician to determine what treatment will work the best for you and what other steps you can take to prevent another episode.
Eye allergies that are accompanied by discharge, swelling, itching, redness, and general irritation, can make your life miserable and can significantly impact your productivity at home and at work. While in some instances, it can be almost impossible to avoid triggers, by following some of the tips here, you can make life more manageable. Seeking treatment is always recommended, especially if you’re dealing with an unknown allergen in the home. Seasonal allergies are much easier to manage in the sense that many over the counter and prescription medications can help to reduce or even eliminate certain symptoms, whereas environmental allergens can be more difficult to pinpoint and manage. By meeting with your doctor for an assessment you can learn what you can do reduce symptoms associated with allergies, and what types of treatment can help to prevent flareups, in order to get back to your normal day to day life.