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Your child comes home from school with itchy, reddish-pink, watery eyes that he can’t stop rubbing. Is a contagious eye infection making its way among his classmates or does your child have an eye allergy?
Eye allergies share symptoms with numerous other eye diseases, making accurate diagnosis imperative. Eye allergy symptoms can range from mildly annoying redness to inflammation severe enough to impair vision.
The four primary types of eye allergy are allergic conjunctivitis, vernal keratoconjunctivitis, atopic keratoconjunctivitis, and giant papillary conjunctivitis. An allergist can diagnose which type of allergy your child is suffering from and recommend the best treatment.


Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) is by far the most common type of eye allergy. Patients experience symptoms in spring, summer, or fall, depending on the type of plant pollen they react to. Typical symptoms are:

  • itching

  • redness

  • burning

  • clear watery discharge

The eyelids may be puffy, and people with chronic allergic conjunctivitis may have chronic dark circles under their eyes, called allergic shiners. No pain or fever is present, although bright lights may bother the eyes. SAC symptoms frequently occur along with a runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion associated with hay fever and other seasonal allergies. The itching may be so bothersome that patients can’t help rubbing their eyes constantly, which actually makes symptoms worse and can cause infection.

Perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC), as its name implies, occurs year-round. Symptoms are the same as with SAC, but tend to be milder. They are caused by reactions to dust mites, mold, pet dander or other household allergens, rather than pollen.


Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a year-round disease, but symptoms may worsen seasonally, and it is a more serious eye allergy than SAC or PAC. This disease primarily occurs in boys and young men, and about 75 percent of patients also have eczema or asthma. Symptoms of this eye allergy include:

  • itching

  • significant tearing and production of thick mucus

  • the feeling of having something in the eye (foreign body sensation)

  • aversion to light (photophobia)

Left untreated, vernal keratoconjunctivitis can impair vision.


Symptoms of atopic keratoconjunctivitisare similar to those of vernal keratoconjunctivitis. They occur year-round, but this type of allergy primarily affects older patientsagain, mostly menwho also have a history of allergic dermatitis. Common eye symptoms are:

  • severe itching

  • burning

  • redness

  • significant production of thick mucus that, after sleep, may cause the eyelids to stick together

Atopic keratoconjunctivitis can result in scarring of the cornea and its delicate membrane if untreated.


Associated with wearing contact lenses, giant papillary conjunctivitis is a severe form of contact allergic conjunctivitis in which individual fluid sacs, or papules, form in the upper lining of the inner eyelid. Symptoms include:

  • itching

  • puffiness

  • tearing

  • mucous discharge

  • blurred vision

  • poor tolerance for wearing contact lenses

  • foreign body sensation

The presence of symptoms does not necessarily mean you have an eye allergy. If eye allergy symptoms persist, however, or over-the-counter remedies do not bring relief, contact an allergist. He or she can differentiate among the types of eye allergies by reviewing your medical history and symptoms and by conducting tests that can reveal eye allergy.

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Allergic Eye Diseases: FAQ
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