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Vernal Conjunctivitis

What Is Vernal Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an infection that causes discomfort, redness, and irritation in the tissues that line the eyes. It is more commonly referred to as "pink-eye." Most cases of conjunctivitis are caused by viruses or bacteria. Vernal conjunctivitis, on the other hand, is caused by an allergic reaction.

This chronic eye inflammation initially occurs most frequently during the spring and summer months. This is due to a normal seasonal increase in allergens (such as pollen) in the air. It can also be caused by an allergic reaction to other things, such as:

  • chlorine in swimming pools
  • cigarette smoke
  • ingredients in cosmetics.

Mild cases of conjunctivitis can be treated with cold compresses and lubricating eye drops. For more severe cases, antihistamines or anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed.

Symptoms of Vernal Conjunctivitis

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • irritated, painful, itchy eyes
  • a burning sensation in the eyes
  • excessive tearing
  • swollen eyes (especially the area around the edge of the cornea where the cornea meets the sclera, or white of the eye )
  • pink or red eyes
  • sensitivity to bright light
  • blurry vision
  • eyelids that are rough, bumpy, and have white mucus (especially inside the upper lids)

The symptoms listed above are also symptoms in other eye conditions. Occasionally experiencing itchy or red eyes is not always a cause for concern. However, you should contact your doctor right away if your red eye lasts for several days, or is accompanied by eye pain or vision changes.

What Causes Vernal Conjunctivitis?

This condition is caused by reaction to allergens, such as pollen and pet dander.

You are at an increased risk of developing the condition if you have a family history of allergies, especially asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis.

You are also at a higher risk if you have other seasonal allergies.

Diagnosing Vernal Conjunctivitis

There are not any established diagnostic criteria or lab tests to diagnose vernal conjunctivitis. A doctor can usually diagnose vernal conjunctivitis by asking about your medical history and examining your eye.

Treatment Options for Vernal Conjunctivitis

The first think to do is to avoid rubbing your eyes because this causes further irritation.

Most cases can be treated at home. At home remedies include:

  • lubricating eye drops
  • over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Benadryl
  • cold compresses: apply these to your closed eyes several times a day for temporary relief

Learn to identify and avoid the allergen that is causing your inflammation to avoid future irritation. Stay indoors and use air conditioning during high-allergen hours of the day during spring and summer months to help cut down on your exposure to outdoor allergens.

If your symptoms occur frequently or last longer than a few days, your doctor can prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops or antihistamines.

Potential Complications and Long-Term Outlook

Most people find relief from their allergy symptoms when the weather turns colder or if they can avoid the allergen. If your condition becomes chronic, it can affect your vision or scar your cornea, which is the outermost layer of the eye that protects the eyes from dust, germs, and other harmful agents.

If your symptoms do not improve with home care, worsen or begin to interfere with your vision, make an appointment to see your eye doctor, allergist, or primary care physician to avoid long-term complications.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Feb 12, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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