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What is it?

Vernal conjunctivitis is inflamation of the conjunctiva, a fine and transparent layer that covers the surface of the eye, caused by an allergic reaction to the allergens to which the patient is hypersensitive. A large percentage of these allergens is plant pollen that blooms in spring (grasses, olive trees and banana trees), which is where the name for the diagnosis of vernal (meaning spring) conjunctivitis comes from.

Symptoms

The main symptom of this disease is a burning sensation in both eyes which can become intense when the pollen count is high in the spring. In addition, the patient may develop red eyes, excess tears, and light may even irritate them. This type of conjunctivitis does not affect the cornea, so in general it does not lead to reduced vision. It's quite common that a patient with vernal conjunctivitis is also affected by rhinitis, sneezing and a red congested nose in the spring.

Causes and risk factors

The cause is allergenic pollen to which the patient is hypersensitive. 

Types

Vernal conjunctivitis is a type of allergic conjunctivitis. Another kind of allergic conjunctivitis is perennial conjuntivitis which affects the patient the whole year round. These patients are usually allergic to mites, dust and black mould. These allergens are usually found in carpets, clothing, upholstery fabric, old books and papers, etc.  

Although it may appear all year round, it's more common in autumn and spring when the weather is changing and we take out the clothes we had stored away to use them again. Patients who are allergic to other types of allergens like animal hair may also suffer perennial conjunctivitis if they are in contact with animal hair. 

Prevention

Vernal conjunctivitis can be prevented mainly by avoiding contact with the allergens to which the patient is hypersensitive. If this is not possible, the patient should try to have as little contact with the atmosphere by using large protective glasses and covering the sides. 

Consulting an allergy specialist is really important if you want to do allergy tests and thereby identify which pollens are causing the condition. Once identified, depending on the specialist's advice, the patient can have a vaccination to desensitize them to these allergens and to prevent vernal conjunctivitis from recurring over the long term

Treatment

When a patient suffers from vernal conjunctivitis, the first thing they should do is rinse their eyes with cold saline solution. If it is not available at the time, washing the eyes with clean cold water to remove the pollen in the eyes and that has remained on the eye's surface is the best thing to do as a type of first aid. Subsequently, the patient should see an ophthalmologist. 

Treatment involves antihistamine eyedrops to reduce the burning sensation and allergic reaction. If necessary, cortisone eyedrops to reduce the inflamation is an option in severe cases, although it should be prescribed by a specialist as it may may have side effects. If the allergy also causes rhinitis or a reaction in other organs, an anithistamine by systemic route is indicated. 

Professionals who treat this pathology

Frequently asked questions

  • Vernal conjuntivitis is not conjunctivitis. Although the symptoms may be similar to other types of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis that are infectious and contagious, a patient who suffers vernal conjunctivitis cannot pass it to another person. For this reason, when a patient has a red or watery eyes, it is important to see an ophthalmologist to determine the diagnosis and, in addition to being treated, find out if their type of conjunctivitis is contagious or not. 

  • There is a significant genetic factor in patients with allergies. A percentage of patients with vernal conjunctivitis have a close relative with an allergic condition like asthma, atopic dermatisis, allergic rhinitis or even allergic conjunctivitis. As we have already mentioned, it is recommended that these patients see a allergy specialist to undergo tests and identify which allergen(s) are causing the allergy and be able to avoid them.

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