Contact allergy of the eyes

Contact allergy is an allergic reaction caused by physical contact with a particular substance.

Symptoms

Symptoms of contact allergy of the eyes include:

  • redness of the eyes;
  • itching of the eyes and eyelids;
  • watering eyes; and
  • red, swollen eyelids.

Both eyes are usually affected, although sometimes only one eye or eyelid will be affected.

Causes

Common causes of contact allergy of the eyes (and/or eyelids) include:

  • cosmetics;
  • eye drops and preservatives found in eye drops;
  • contact lens solutions (or preservatives in these solutions); and
  • contact with certain plants, such as Grevillea (‘Robyn Gordon’) and Rhus tree.

Diagnosis and tests

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and when they started, and perform a physical examination.

If eye drops are the suspected cause of the allergic reaction, an improvement in symptoms after stopping the eye drops will help confirm this.

In some cases, patch testing may be suggested to determine the cause of the allergy.

Treatment

Treatment involves removing the cause of the contact allergy.

To ease the symptoms of contact allergy of the eye:

  • apply a cold compress to the eyes;
  • wash out your eyes with saline or cold water to remove excess mucus and allergen; and
  • take out contact lenses (if you wear them) until symptoms have resolved.

Lubricant eye drops (preservative-free) may also help relieve the symptoms in some cases. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure the drops do not contain any substances that may cause additional symptoms.

References

1. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA). Allergic conjunctivitis (updated Jan 2010). http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever-and-sinusitis/allergic-conjunctivitis (accessed May 2014).
2. NHS Choices. Conjunctivitis (updated 9 Mar 2012). http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Conjunctivitis-infective/Pages/Introduction.aspx (accessed May 2014).
3. Children's Hospital at Westmead; Sydney Children's Hospital Randwick. Kids Health. Poisonous plants (reviewed 24 Feb 2010). http://kidshealth.schn.health.nsw.gov.au/fact-sheets/poisonous-plants (accessed May 2014).
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