Give Pink Eye the Stink Eye

By Dr. Ryan Robison, O.D.

As we welcome spring and enjoy the emerging colors of our local plants, it is also brings allergy season for many. Although pollen isn’t the only reason for allergies it does play a significant role. Some years are more impactful than others. It seems we have had a couple of stronger seasons the last two years.

Allergies can affect everyone differently. Symptoms can include a runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing, a sore throat and plugged ears. When the eyes are involved they are often red or pink and described as having a red or pink eye. When eyes are affected by allergies we call it ocular allergies or allergic conjunctivitis and it commonly affects those who suffer from other allergy symptoms. Symptoms for ocular allergies can include swelling, redness, watering, burning, itching and light sensitivity. It is likely that someone would have multiple symptoms but often they may have only one. In addition to causing some level of discomfort, it can also interfere with daily activities.

It is not unusual for me to see a patient that has come in for a red eye examination. Oftentimes, the reason for the red eye is very straightforward and sometimes it is a little tricky. For instance, a red eye could be due to dryness, allergies or an infection. All of these reasons can appear similar, but all require a completely different treatment plan. Even though these conditions can appear similar, there are specific things we look for when evaluating the eye and eyelids to help us differentiate between them.

Here are some statistics on ocular allergies: they affect up to 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children, they are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., they are the most common health issues affecting children in the U.S. Researchers think nasal allergies affect about 50 million people in the U.S. While anyone can be born with or develop allergies, people whose parents suffer from allergies are more likely to have allergies.

Anyone can experience ocular allergies when they come into contact with allergens. Some allergens are harmless to others, like pollen, mold, dust, and pet dander. In addition, some eyes are sensitive to perfumes, smoke, cosmetics, insect bites/stings, foods, and preservatives found in eye drops.

When an allergy sufferer’s eyes come into contact with an allergen, their immune system reacts, and cells known as mast cells release histamine to try to combat the allergen. Histamine causes the symptoms associated with allergies. When mast cells in the eye release histamine to fight off allergens, the eyelids, conjunctiva (membrane covering the underside of the eyelid), and sclera (white of the eye) become irritated. This leads to a variety of symptoms described earlier.

The best way to prevent allergies is to avoid allergens. Control air quality by closing windows, changing air conditioning filters, using air purifiers, cleaning the blades on ceiling fans. Wash your hands after handling animals, wash bedding in hot water to remove allergens, use a non-feathered pillow or cover it with a special case and reduce humidity in the home to prevent mold growth.

If you suffer ocular allergies or think you might, an eye care professional can provide you with a proper diagnosis and treatment. Over the counter eye drops formulated for allergy relief are often adequate treatment. However, a prescription may be needed and could include other methods of treatment such as oral decongestants or antihistamines, eye drops with antihistamine or mast stabilizers, corticosteroids, or nasal sprays. To schedule an appointment with one of our doctors, call us at 435-673-5577. Visit our website at for more information on allergies and other eye health topics.