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Have you ever woken up with red, irritated eyes that are watery, crusty, itchy, and just plain uncomfortable? You may wonder whether you’re experiencing a bout of allergic conjunctivitis, or eye allergies, or are suffering from a pink eye infection.

Let’s look at the difference between pink eye and allergic conjunctivitis to help you determine whether you need to schedule a visit with your allergist or primary care physician.

Pink Eye

Pink eye, often called “conjunctivitis,” is an infection that can affect one or both eyes. Patients develop pink eye after exposure to a virus or an infection-causing bacteria, and it doesn’t take much for someone to come in contact with either viral or bacterial conjunctivitis. It’s a common infection among children since both are highly contagious, and children sit or play closely with each other in classrooms, playgrounds, school cafeterias, and more.

Pink Eye Causes

Viral Conjunctivitis

A patient exposed to certain viruses, especially adenoviruses, can develop an infection in one or both eyes. In many cases, if one eye is infected, the other will also become infected. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

A patient exposed to certain bacteria—most commonly those that cause strep throat, pneumonia, respiratory infections, chlamydia, or gonorrhea—can develop infection in one or both eyes. Bacterial conjunctivitis is also highly contagious and is more common among children.

Pink Eye Symptoms

Determining whether you are experiencing viral or bacterial pink eye can be difficult since both cause pretty similar symptoms. Common signs of a pink eye infection include:

  • Redness in the white part of the eye(s)
  • Burning or Itchiness
  • The sensation of grit or debris in the eye(s)
  • Swelling of the eyelid(s)
  • Eye pain and Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision
  • Watery discharge (more common with viral infections)
  • Thick, pus-like discharge (more common with bacterial infections)
  • Eyelids that crust shut, especially overnight

Viral infections can also include symptoms like a sore throat, runny nose, or congestion.

Pink Eye Treatment

If you or your child has viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, you can take different courses of action to clear the eyes and eliminate the infection.

  • Viral conjunctivitis—Viral conjunctivitis will often fade on its own after a few days. Treatment or intervention is not necessary for most infections. However, infection from viruses like the herpes simplex virus or varicella-zoster virus do require antiviral medication. Antibiotics are ineffective for a viral infection.
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis—Without treatment, bacterial pink eye can take several weeks to clear up completely. Antibiotic eyedrops or medication can shorten the infection’s timeline and help soothe symptoms in the process.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is often grouped with other pink-eye categories like viral and bacterial conjunctivitis. However, allergic conjunctivitis is the official medical term for an eye allergy. A sensitive immune system can react to an allergen exposure in many ways, including through the eyes. Symptoms are somewhat similar to those of pink eye, but the causes and threat of spread are very different.

Patients with allergic conjunctivitis do not have to worry about spreading their condition, as the root issue is an overly reactive immune system, not a viral or bacterial infection.

Allergic Conjunctivitis Causes

There are several allergens that can cause an eye allergy patient to develop allergic conjunctivitis, including:

  • Tree, grass, and weed pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Mold spores
  • Pet dander
  • Certain medications, especially ointments or eyedrops
  • Certain cosmetics

Allergic Conjunctivitis Symptoms

Eye allergy symptoms are somewhat similar to those of a pink eye infection, and symptoms tend to affect both eyes simultaneously. Patients can experience:

  • Itchy or burning eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Redness or swelling in the eyes
  • Additional symptoms such as excessive sneezing, a runny nose, or a scratchy throat

Allergic Conjunctivitis Treatment

One of the most effective but most difficult ways to avoid allergic conjunctivitis is to avoid the allergens that cause the reaction. However, we understand how difficult it can be to avoid your triggers, especially airborne ones like pollen or dust mites.

If your eye allergies are a result of airborne triggers, you could benefit from antihistamines or allergy medications. You may even find relief through immunotherapy, or allergy shots.

If your allergies arise after exposure to certain ointments, topical medications, or cosmetics, antihistamines or immunotherapy will not be effective. However, prescription ointments, eyedrops, or cosmetic products for sensitive skin may help. The most effective thing when it comes to allergy-inducing products is to quit using the ones causing the reaction and find those that do not irritate the eyes or the skin around your eyes.

Do you suffer from allergic conjunctivitis and want to find relief? Talk to Langford Allergy about our allergy treatment options.

Dr. Langford and our team understand the frustration of living with red, watery, irritated eyes that arise after exposure to an allergen. Find relief for your eyes and other areas affected by allergies with our effective allergy treatments. We offer beneficial information and education for avoiding your triggers, as well as medications and solutions to soothe symptoms and lessen the severity of your allergies.

Schedule an allergy consultation with us today at 478-787-4728.

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