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Vernal conjunctivitis

Definition

Vernal conjunctivitis is long-term (chronic) swelling (inflammation) of the outer lining of the eyes due to an allergic reaction.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Vernal conjunctivitis often occurs in people with a strong family history of allergies, such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema. It is most common in young males, and most often occurs during the spring and summer.

Symptoms

  • Burning eyes
  • Discomfort in bright light (photophobia)
  • Itching eyes
  • The area around the cornea where the white of the eye and the cornea meet (limbus) may become rough and swollen
  • The inside of the eyelids (usually the upper ones) may become rough and covered with bumps and a white mucus
  • Watering eyes

Signs and tests

The health care provider will perform an eye exam.

Treatment

Avoid rubbing the eyes, because this can irritate them more.

Cold compresses (a clean cloth soaked in cold water and then placed over the closed eyes) may be soothing.

Lubricating drops may also help soothe the eye.

If home-care measures do not help, you may need to be treated by your health care provider. This may include:

  • Antihistamine or anti-inflammatory drops that are placed into the eye
  • Eye drops that prevent a type of white blood cell called mast cells from releasing histamine (may help prevent future attacks)
  • Mild steroids that are applied directly to the surface of the eye (for severe reactions)

Expectations (prognosis)

The condition continues over time (is chronic). It gets worse during certain seasons of the year, usually spring and summer. Treatment may provide relief.

Complications

  • Continuing discomfort
  • Reduced vision
  • Scarring of cornea

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if your symptoms continue or get worse.

Prevention

Using air conditioning or moving to a cooler climate may help prevent the problem from getting worse in the future.

References

Rubenstein JB, Virasch V. Allergic conjunctivitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 4.7.

Barney NP, Graziano FM, Cook EB, Stahl JL. Allergic and immunologic diseases of the eye. In: Adkinson NF, Jr., ed. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 64.

Hernandez-Trujillo V, Mitchell G, Lieberman P. Allergy. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 20.


Review Date: 6/2/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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