Allergic Conjunctivitis

Do your eyes feel itchier, puffier, and redder than ever this season?

This year, experts have determined certain parts of Canada experienced an earlier start to pollen season, which is why we see an increase in reported airborne allergies like allergic conjunctivitis. According to the most recent studies by Statistics Canada, Canadians aged 12 and older most commonly report their main allergens as pollens and grasses (40.7%), followed by certain animals (28.5%), dust mites (27.3%) and medications (28.0%). In addition, an estimated 20% of people have some degree of allergic conjunctivitis or eye inflammation caused by an allergic reaction.

Allergic conjunctivitis presents itself as red, dry, itchy, or watery eyes and affects both eyes. The surface of the eye and insides of our eyelids are covered by a membrane known as the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva supplies lubrication, producing tears and mucus. It also protects the eye from dust, debris and other infection causing organisms. 

Inflammation of the conjunctiva caused by viruses or bacteria, as opposed to an allergy, is called infectious conjunctivitis.

Types of Allergic Conjunctivitis 

Acute: a short-term condition typically occurring during allergy seasons with symptoms including burning, itchy or swollen eyelids. A runny nose is also common. Mold spores, or tree, weed, and grass pollens are the cause of this form, sometimes known as seasonal conjunctivitis. 

Chronic: a less common condition, chronic allergic conjunctivitis occurs year-round regardless of the season. It is a less severe reaction to allergens like food, dust, or animal dander. Symptoms include burning, itching of eyes and light sensitivity. These symptoms may worsen or improve periodically, even disappearing for periods of time.

Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis (VKC): a special case of allergic conjunctivitis. With VKC the trigger or allergen is unknown. It is most commonly diagnosed in boys aged 5-20 years with a family or medical history of asthma, rhinitis, eczema or seasonal allergies. The most common symptoms are itching, burning, tearing, light sensitivity (photophobia) and giant papillae (bumps inside the eyelid). Most often, the condition subsides in fall and winter and reappears in spring. Also, most children do outgrow the condition by adulthood. 


An eye doctor’s evaluation and careful observation is necessary to diagnose allergic conjunctivitis. Redness in the white of the eye or small bumps inside the eyelid (papillae) are visible signs. Your eye doctor (Optometrist) will examine your eye thoroughly and review your symptoms and allergy history. 

Treatment and Prevention

Avoid the allergen: the best way to prevent all types of allergic conjunctivitis is to stay away from the offending allergen as much as possible. When the pollen count is high, be sure to close your windows. Keep your home dust free and consider using an indoor air purifier. Avoid exposure to harsh chemicals and perfumes.

Home remedies: you may apply chilled or room temperature tear supplements and cold compresses to help reduce symptoms.

Medication: an eye doctor can recommend options including oral antihistamine or drops that contain antihistamines, which may be enough to relieve symptoms for mild cases. These can be bought over the counter or if necessary, prescribed.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops also help relieve symptoms. Corticosteroid drops do exhibit more effective anti-inflammatory effects. However, steroid eye drops should not be used more than a few weeks without close monitoring by an ophthalmologist or optometrist as they cause higher pressure in the eyes (which can lead to glaucoma), cataracts and increase risk of eye infections.

NOTE: having red or pink eyes can be a symptom of other ocular health issues beyond allergic conjunctivitis. Some may be contagious or damage vision if not treated by an eye doctor. If you or your child experience changes in the colour of the white part (sclera) of the eye, light sensitivity, or eye pain, seek consultation with an optometrist.

Call or visit us and we would be happy to help with any of these conditions and emergencies. We are available to help with all your eye care needs. Call us at 647-952-1099 or click the book appointment button.


Read more about Allergic Conjunctivitis from the Allergy Asthma & Immunology Society of Ontario:

Read more about different types of conjunctivitis from the Canadian Association of Optometrists:

Read more about the prevalence of chronic conditions from Statistics Canada: