Childhood Allergies: Red, Itchy Eyes Could be More than an Allergic Reaction

When a child develops red, watery eyes, it could be just allergies – or it may be the sign of a more serious eye condition, according to a leading pediatric ophthalmologist.

According to Bibiana Jin Reiser, M.D., M.S., a pediatric ophthalmologist with The Vision Center at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, “Red, itchy, watery eyes can be a temporary allergic reaction to pollen or other environmental irritants and should go away after a few days or weeks. However, if your child has red, itchy eyes year-round, if their eyes become seriously inflamed and produce a sticky, mucous-like fluid, or if they become very sensitive to the sun, it could be the sign of a more serious condition.”

Dr. Reiser said that the common, mild form of seasonal or environmental ocular allergy is called allergic conjunctivitis. The conjunctiva is the thin, clear membrane covering the white part of the eye. This common condition can usually be treated effectively with eye drops or decongestants.

If your child is prone to this type of allergy, you should consider using hypoallergenic pillows, wrapping mattresses to prevent dust mites, closing windows and using air conditioning during high allergy season, removing pet dander and utilizing a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter.

The more serious types of conditions that may initially mimic eye allergies are atopic conjunctivitis and vernal conjunctivitis. In the former, the child has red, watery eyes year-round and in the latter during the warmer months: April to August.

In vernal conjunctivitis, the child’s eyes have severe redness and itching and may exude a sticky, mucous like substance. The child may complain of photophobia, a painful sensitivity to strong light. Vernal conjunctivitis is often seen in young males and can be associated with asthma or eczema.

Dr. Reiser said it is essential to see a family doctor or an eye doctor promptly if the child has one or more of these symptoms:

-says sunlight hurts his eyes;
-his eyes discharge a thick, mucous like substance;
-has symptoms that are not relieved by eye drops or decongestants;
-has additional allergic symptoms, like eczema or asthma.

Dr. Reiser noted that your family physician may refer you to a pediatric ophthalmologist if the symptoms persist or get worse.

“It is important to treat serious conditions like vernal conjunctivitis promptly, because if left untreated, they may lead to ulcers in the eye or even corneal scarring,” Dr. Reiser said.

The Vision Center at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles is an international referral center known for its family friendly environment of children afflicted with all forms of eye disease and provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient services. It is the largest pediatric ophthalmology program in the nation with multiple subspecialty programs that are considered to be among today’s finest resources for diagnosis, treatment and research.

Founded in 1901, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles has been treating the most seriously ill and injured children in Los Angeles for more than a century, and it is acknowledged throughout the United States and around the world for its leadership in pediatric and adolescent health. Childrens Hospital is one of America’s premier teaching hospitals, affiliated with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California since 1932. The Saban Research Institute of Childrens Hospital Los Angeles is among the largest and most productive pediatric research facilities in the United States.

Source:  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

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