By Dr Ahmad Abbadi
KUWAIT: Allergies are the body’s immune system reaction to foreign substances, such as dust. The immune system which is your defense system is known to protect the body from anything that might threaten it. As a result, when you come into contact with a foreign substance, your immune system will produce specific materials known as antibodies that will search for those substances and label them as dangerous, even though they are not. Thus, you will get allergies that might irritate your eyes, resulting in allergic conjunctivitis.
Allergic conjunctivitis is a medical term used to describe allergies of the transparent layer that lines the eyelids and eyeball, known as the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva has two main functions, providing protection and lubrication by producing tears and mucus. Thus, preventing foreign substances such as allergens from entering the eye. If the eyes come in contact with something that might initiate an allergic conjunctivitis episode, the function of the conjunctiva will be compromised.
There are many things that might cause allergic conjunctivitis. For example, items that we use on daily basis such as, makeup set, perfume, detergents, contact lenses and hair shampoo. However, some patients might be allergic to pets, for instance cats, dogs and birds. In addition, some patients might experience seasonal allergies resulting in allergic conjunctivitis, especially during the Summer due to dust storms and in Autumn due to pollens. Furthermore, allergic conjunctivitis might be a result of indirect contact with the eyes, through insect bites or pest repellent.
Allergic conjunctives have two main types. Firstly, acute allergic conjunctivitis which is a condition that occurs suddenly and for a short period of time. In comparison to, chronic allergic conjunctivitis that is less common and happens year-round.
Allergic conjunctivitis is relatively common, it effects nearly 40 percent of the general population, especially during hay fever season, however not all patients might experience the same symptoms. Some of the common symptoms of allergic conjunctives include, red, itchy or swollen eyes, excessive tearing, swollen eyelids and sensitivity to light.
If allergic conjunctives are suspected, patients are advised to visit their near ophthalmologist to get their eyes checked. The doctor will take a detailed history from the patient to figure out the source of allergies. In addition, the doctor will examine the patient’s eyes using a device with a light that does not touch the eyes directly. It might also include putting some drops onto the eyes of the patient to examine them properly, that might sting a bit. In chronic allergic conjunctivitis, doctors might decide to perform some blood tests to determine the source of allergies and treat them accordingly.
After a thorough examination of the eyes, the doctor will provide the optimal treatment plan that might include keeping a protective distance from the sources of allergies, eye drops or and tablets to resolve the episode of allergic conjunctives.
Allergic conjunctivitis like all medical conditions has its complications. Although seasonal and year-round allergies might cause eyes discomfort while preforming your daily activities, they usually clear up completely in a short period of time without complications. Nevertheless, in severe cases of allergic conjunctivitis, patients might develop ulcers or scarring of the eyes due to the excessive itching of the eyeballs, which can lead to long-term damage to vision. Thus, patients are advised to visit their eye doctor if they are experiencing allergic conjunctivitis symptoms for some time, to help them elevate their symptoms and to preserve their eyesight.
– Dr Ahmad Abbadi is an Assistant Registrar Ophthalmologist at Al-Bahar Eye Centre