Sunday, April 11, 2010

Red Eyes: Could be More than just Allergies

I've just returned from the Raleigh/Durham area, and I've never seen pollen as bad as it is there right now. The streets actually had a layer of yellow on them. Cars were filthy, covered with yellow pollen. And everywhere you go, you see sneezing people with red, bloodshot eyes. Many of the children in families of my North Carolina relatives had allergic eyes.

But when a child develops red, watery eyes, it may be allergies, or it could be the sign of a more serious eye condition, according to a leading pediatric ophthalmologist. According to Bibiana Jin Reiser, M.D., M.S., a pediatric ophthalmologist with The Vision Center at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, “Red, itchy, watery eyes can be a temporary allergic reaction to pollen or other environmental irritants and should go away after a few days or weeks. However, if your child has red, itchy eyes year-round, if their eyes become seriously inflamed and produce a sticky, mucous-like fluid, or if they become very sensitive to the sun, it could be the sign of a more serious condition.”

Dr. Reiser said that the common, mild form of seasonal or environmental ocular allergy is called allergic conjunctivitis. The conjunctiva is the thin, clear membrane covering the white part of the eye. This common condition can usually be treated effectively with eye drops or decongestants. We use Claritin in my household, or a generic version of the same which we buy at Costco.

Those who are prone to this type of allergy should consider using hypoallergenic pillows, wrapping mattresses to prevent dust mites, closing windows and using air conditioning during high allergy season, removing pet dander and utilizing a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. All these things can help.

The more serious types of conditions that may initially mimic eye allergies are atopic conjunctivitis and vernal conjunctivitis. In the former, for example, you may find your child has red, watery eyes year-round and in the latter during the warmer months: April to August. In vernal conjunctivitis, the child’s eyes have severe redness and itching and may exude a sticky, mucous like substance. The child may complain of photophobia, a painful sensitivity to strong light. Vernal conjunctivitis is often seen in young males and can be associated with asthma or eczema

It is essential to see a family doctor or an eye doctor promptly if the child has one or more of these symptoms:1) says sunlight hurts his eyes, 2) his eyes discharge a thick, mucous like substance, 3) has symptoms that are not relieved by eye drops or decongestants, and 4) has additional allergic symptoms, like eczema or asthma.


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