Allergic conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva (the membrane covering the white part of the eye) due to allergy. Although allergens differ between patients, the most common cause is hay fever. Symptoms consist of redness (mainly due to vasodilation of the peripheral small blood vessels), oedema (swelling) of the conjunctiva, itching and increased lacrimation (production of tears). If this is combined with rhinitis, the condition is termed allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.
The symptoms are due to release of histamine and other active substances by mast cells, which stimulate dilation of blood vessels, irritate nerve endings and increase secretion of tears.
Treatment of allergic conjunctivitis is by avoiding the allergen (e.g. avoiding grass in bloom during the "hay fever season") and treatment with antihistamines, either topical (in the form of eye drops), or systemic (in the form of tablets). Antihistamines, medication that stabilizes mast cells, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are safe and usually effective.
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