August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. Aside from checking your child’s vision, it’s important to check in on their eye health, too. If your child is prone to eye redness or itchy eyes, they may be suffering with allergic conjunctivitis.
When the body encounters an allergen—be it cat, dog, ragweed, tree pollens, dust, mold, etc.—it fights back with chemical “ammo.” Unfortunately, the chemicals that the body produces cause swelling and inflammation. When it comes to eye allergies, chemicals such as histamine inflame the “conjunctiva” which covers the outer eye and the insides of the eyelids. This inflammation causes redness (hence the term “pink eye”) and itching of the eyes. It can also lead to excessive tear and mucus production.
Allergies aren’t behind all types of conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis, as the name implies, comes from strains of bacteria that may be encountered through infected surfaces or may accompany sinus or ear infections. Antibiotics are useful in treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis is yet another form. It does not respond to antibiotics. Though eye drops may be used to address its symptoms, viral conjunctivitis must run its course, usually peaking at days three to five and improving from there.
If you suspect that allergies are causing your eye problems, consult an allergist. He or she will often prescribe eye drops that can help manage your discomfort. If you find your conjunctivitis persisting or flaring up repeatedly with each new allergy season, consider breaking the cycle with allergy immunotherapy. This is different from medications in that it treats the underlying allergic disease rather than only treating the symptoms. It can take longer to work initially, but over time, it can help desensitize your body to allergens so that it stops reacting to them once and for all. One might compare this treatment to stitching up a wound so it can truly heal versus simply putting a bandage on it to soak up the blood.
Diagnosis of allergies starts with an allergy test (available through blood tests or through an allergy skin test). If you and your physician decide to press forward with an allergy treatment program, you can decide between allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy (oral allergy drops). Both can help boost your immunity to allergens in the environment and help minimize or eliminate the discomfort of allergic conjunctivitis.