Allergic conjunctivitis; what you should know about it

It’s of importance for anyone with eye problems to seek medical attention./File photo

When it comes to eye diseases and conditions, there are quite a number of them; but the most common ones are allergy-related, normally known as allergic conjunctivitis.

For instance, for this particular disease, at Oshen-King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, the ophthalmologist has seen 40 per cent of patients with it.


According to Dr Francis Mutangana, a senior consultant ophthalmologist at Oshen-King Faisal Hospital, when the eyes are exposed to substances like pollen or mould spores, they may become reditchy, and watery.

Allergic conjunctivitis is an eye inflammation caused by an allergic reaction to substances like pollen or mould spores.

He says one can experience allergic conjunctivitis when the body tries to defend itself against a perceived threat.

“It does this in reaction to things that trigger the release of histamine. The body produces this potent chemical to fight off foreign invaders,” he says.

Some of the substances that cause this reaction include; household dust, pollen from trees and grass, mould spores, and chemical scents including detergents or perfume, among others.

For one to be able to know they are suffering from this eye disease, Dr Mutangana says, there are symptoms to look out for.

People with allergic conjunctivitis also sneeze a lot, but treatment always differs. When it comes to this eye disease, he says, everyone can be affected, from the young to elderly.

He notes that people with this condition normally have itchy eyes and sometimes they turn red.

In some cases, there is mild discharge, eyes become teary, and it sometimes feels like there are stones in the eyes (foreign body sensation).

Other symptoms include the changing of the colour of the eyes where they turn brown-ish.

Although not every patient will experience all or the same symptoms, Dr Mutangana says this is the range of symptoms presented by someone suffering from allergic conjunctivitis.


Shamarima Iragena, an ophthalmologist in Kigali, says people who have allergies are more likely to develop allergic conjunctivitis.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies affect 30 per cent of adults and 40 per cent of children, and often run in families.

It also says that allergies affect people of all ages, though they are more common in children and young adults. If you have allergies and live in locations with high pollen counts, you are more susceptible to allergic conjunctivitis.

Iragena says when patients with this eye disease are examined, there are some typical signs which indicate that it’s an allergy, but these symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis can as well be present in other eye diseases.

For this reason, Dr Mutangana says it’s of importance for anyone with eye problems to seek medical attention so that they can notice the problem, and thereafter, rectify it.

The other thing that can be confused for allergy conjunctivitis, he says, is dry eye syndrome. He explains that if one has all the mentioned symptoms, there could be a possibility that they have dry eye syndrome or allergy as well.

He adds that similarly, a condition known as infective conjunctivitis can be confused with allergic conjunctivitis because they all present almost the same signs and symptoms.

He says that some patients opt to go for over-the-counter medication for any eye problem, which he strongly disagrees with.

He explains that it’s quite difficult to know which eye condition one suffers from because all of them may have similar symptoms.

The best option is to see an eye doctor who will examine the eye using a machine, and this will help them figure out the exact problem.

For example, when it comes to allergic conjunctivitis, when examined, there is papilla (an allergic reaction of the eye). It occurs when one or several small round bumps develop on the underside of the eyelid.


The dangers, Iragena says, can be from the symptoms when rubbing the eyes, and the treatment they get as well.

When it comes to rubbing the eyes for too long, she says it can change the shape of the cornea (the black part of the eye).

She explains that normally, the cornea has a certain shape that helps one to see well, so rubbing the eye is associated with changing the shape of the cornea, making light less focused inside the eye, leading to problems with sight.

This can cause a problem called keratoconus, which is not easy to treat.

Iragena says that the treatment of this problem is not easy and that getting cornea craft is hard because they are imported.

The danger that is associated with treatment is when people self-medicate (buying over-the-counter medicine).

“People usually go and buy drugs from the pharmacy without prescription from a doctor, and what they are given for the eye most of the time is a mixture of steroids and antibiotics.

“If one keeps on putting steroids in the eyes, they can suffer cataracts and glaucoma, both dangerous eye diseases,” she says.


Bonaventure Gasimba, an ophthalmologist working at Galien Clinic in Remera, says once patients go for medication and are diagnosed with allergic conjunctivitis, there are different types of drugs that can be used for treatment. It’s easy to grade the condition —mild, moderate or severe — which aids in administering the right treatment.

For mild cases, he says, there are eye drops used; once one washes out the allergens, the symptoms will reduce.

For moderate cases, he says, drugs are given, whereas for severe cases, stronger medicines are given as well.

Mutangana explains that many times, some patients are given strong medicine because of the severity of the condition because they were quick to go for over-the-counter medicine.

“People should know that medicines used without proper instructions expose them to various complications,” he warns.

With treatment, Gasimba says in case the allergy recurs, going back to the hospital to check the severity of the problem is important so that they rule out which type of medication is okay to be used.