The What and Why of Allergies

April 5, 2022


About one in three of all people suffer from allergies, and the majority experience eye-related symptoms. More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year; however, many people do not understand why allergies happen or how to combat them beyond taking an antihistamine. So, what are allergies?

Why Do Allergies Happen?

Allergies are a person’s immune system responding negatively to substances in the environment that are normally harmless, like pollen, dust, foods, or medications. These normally harmless substances are called “allergens”, and while the immune system usually does not have a negative reaction the first time it is exposed to an allergen, over time it builds up a sensitivity. Eventually, the immune system begins to think that the allergen is a threat and develops antibodies to fight it, which causes the familiar symptoms of an allergy.

What Are the Dangers?

Most allergic reactions are mild, but some can disrupt our daily lives or even become a medical emergency. The most severe form of an allergic reaction is “anaphylaxis” which can cause difficulty breathing, drops in blood pressure, and even unconsciousness. This is a dangerous condition and requires immediate medical attention. Luckily, anaphylaxis is rare. A much more common danger is “allergic conjunctivitis”, which is where the eyes become red, watery, itchy, or sensitive to light. Beyond being uncomfortable, this condition can cause a person to continuously rub their eyes to the point of damaging the tissue.

What Options are There for Treatment?

There are several common options for treatment:

  • Eye drops – these target the redness and itching in the eye and attempt to provide relief from the symptoms.
  • Antihistamines – these attempt to block the immune symptom’s response to an allergen.
  • Decongestants – these help clear blockages in the nose.
  • Corticosteroids – these are a type of mild steroid that reduces swelling.
  • Immunotherapy – for those with severe allergic reactions, exposing them slowly and gradually to the allergen in question can help build a tolerance.

Make an Appointment

If you think you are suffering from red, itchy eyes and would like relief, schedule an appointment at Anh Nguyen Ophthalmology. Call (703) 534-4393 or request your appointment online.


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MediLexicon International. (2021, May 9). Allergies: Causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Medical News Today.

Kari, O., & Saari, K. M. (2012, March 3). Diagnostics and New Developments in the Treatment of Ocular Allergies. Research Gate.

Berson, S. R., & Klimczak, J. (2018, July). Clinical associations between allergies and rapid eye movement sleep disturbances. Wiley.

Bixler, J. E. (n.d.). Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis (AKC). Kellogg Eye Center.

Cole, J. (2018, November 19). A Month-by-Month Guide to Seasonal Allergies in Richmond, Virginia. Virginia Ear, Nose & Throat Associates – Virginia ENT.

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