Vernal keratoconjunctivitis VKC
In this condition the surface of the eye becomes red and sore and inflamed. This is a type of allergic eye disease, and is similar to atopic keratoconjunctivitis and giant papillary conjunctivitis. The immune system becomes overactive; a type 2 hypersensitivity reaction. The cause is not known, but it is partly genetic. There are environmental factors we partly understand, and these are discussed below.
The condition affects the conjunctiva, the cornea, and the conjunctiva under the eyelids.
enlarge the anatomy
enlarge some of the problems
The conjunctiva (the skin covering the eye) can develop tiny lumps, limbitis. In addition, and the under surface of the upper lid also becomes inflamed. The eye is very red and itchy to start with. When the condition is very active, it is very hard to open the eyes.
VKC can start as a child, young adult or adult, and can continue for many years. It usually starts about age 8y, and is worse in spring and summer, and stops in the late teens in 95% of patients. If the condition is not treated, the eye becomes very dry, and corneal scarring can reduce the sight. Corneal ulcers can develop, and later also scars. Later and the cornea and the undersurface of the upper lid can become scarred. Patients may also have asthma and eczema.
It is commoner in people with Southern Asian or North African ethnicity, and Equatorial areas. There is often atopic dermatitis around the eye, with fissuring and ptosis, and giant papillae.
Shield ulcers and giant papillae
shield ulcers on the cornea (shown in green)
- Shield ulcers may develop. These are sterile ulcers on the surface of the cornea.
- These sometimes need debriding under anaesthetic (children), with steroid injections in the upper lid.
Giant papillae under the lid
- Giant papillae under the lid may develop, and these are treated with the standard medical treatment initially.
- itch, watering, discomfort, mucous discharge
- later reduced sight from scarring and cataract etc
- eye drops and wind may make the eye feel more sore
This page outlines different treatments. If the condition is severe, advice from an ophthalmologist
is essential. Anyone with sore eyes should ideally not use more than 4 eye drops a day containing
preservative; if more drops are needed, they should be preservative free.
drops are virtually 100% safe for long term use and can be very helpful.
They stop the 'allergy cells' on the surface of the eye, the mast cells,
releasing chemicals that make the eyes irritable. Nedocromil (Rapitil) and Lodoxamide are
more modern and quicker acting forms of Optichrom and should tried
if Optichrom has not helped enough. They are generally not helpful for patients attending hospital clinics as their condition is more severe.
Preservative free lubricants
These are make the surface of the eye smooth. For mild disease Viscotears or Xailin gel 4 times a day may help. Xailin night may help at night.
Most patients attending hospital will need more intensive lubricant drops
- Hyloforte, Hyabak, Clinitas (sodium hyaluronate 0.4% preservative-free) every 1/2 -2 hourly
- VitApos night
Opatanol, Olopatadine bd (twice/day) US name is Patanol It is a mast cell stabiliser/antihistamine, and can help see see.
Antihistamine tablets such as Cetirizine , Levocetirizine (5mg >6y age), Loratidine Others. They may make you too tired but are
There are many types of antihistamine tablets and some make more people
tired than others. Ask your doctor and pharmacist for advice. If you have many episodes of AKC and find this helps, start these as soon as the eyes get sore.
Steroid drops for more severe problems
Most hospital patients will need steroid eye drops, and these should be preservative free, such as dexamethasone preservative free e.g. Dropadex. They should not be used without an ophthalmologist's advice, unless
your GP is experienced in their use and you only use them for short periods.
They have side effects, such as increasing the eye pressure, (causing glaucoma) and cataracts (which may need surgery later). Even short term use of steroid
drops can activate herpes simplex keratitis.
If the eyes are red and sore and itchy, start 4 times a day. As soon as the redness fades, usually about 4
days, start to reduce the dose of the steroid to 3 and then twice a
Once the redness has faded, continue for a few more days and then try to stop
If the redness and itch returns every time you stop, and as advised by
your ophthalmologist, you may need to use a low dose regularly, such
as once a day, and later alternate day use, or every third day etc, and then stopping.
Steroid drops have many side effects if used in the wrong manner. You
need to be certain that you do have 'allergic conjunctivitis' and not
another condition, and most people can recognise when their eyes are
red and itchy the condition has returned.
If you have a scratchy and painful eye, you may have an ulcer and
the drops should be stopped and you should get expert advice.
Protopic/Tacrolimus ointment (and Cyclosporine)
Tacrolimus ointment 0.03 % twice day (Protopic) to skin around eye cream twice takes a few weeks to work, so it should be started whilst the patient is using the steroid drops, with a maximum effect at 6 months, although there should be a definite improvement after 4 weeks. Some of the Protopic ointment should be allowed to enter the eye (otherwise there will be no effect on the conjunctiva).
Once the Protopic is working, the dose of the steroid drops can be reduced and may be stopped or continued at a low dose (reducing from 4 times a day to once a day or less often perhaps).
When the Protopic is started it stings for a few days, but the stinging effect wears off. see see tacrolimus
Tacrolimus is more effective than Cyclosporine.
allergy : precautions
People with allergic eye disease may be sensitive to dust, and the measures below may help. (This includes a few patients with AKC)
If you have a dust allergy there is plenty you can do. Visit the websites
below for more details. This
page has many details....although written for asthma patients,
advice may be helpful.
- Try a new pillow or ultra-clean
towel over your pillow in bed. This might be particularly helpful
if you have your conjunctivitis at night or when you wake up. Any
regular pillow collects dust inside that after a while, and you
can become allergic to it. If this helps buy a non-allergenic pillow
with a special outer cover. After 5 years most pillows are 50% dust
Similarly, sleep on an ultra-clean towel, and if this helps buy special
mattress and duvet covers. These can be expensive but can be very,
- The dust mite is killed
by freezing. Therefore, putting your pillow in the freezer for a few
hours will kill all the mites. Try this, and if it helps it confirms
you are allergic to dust. The dust mites accumulate, so you may need
to repeat this every month. It may also help if you can put your mattress
cover in the freezer, and your duvet and duvet cover, if they fit.
bedding at high temperatures also kills the dust mite.
- When hoovering..try to get
someone else to do it...but if you cannot, try to dampen the floor first
with a spray of water. When dusting, use a damp cloth.
- Keep your rooms ventilated,
and perhaps turn the heating down, especially when you are out. The
dust mite (which is what people are allergic to) likes centrally heated
- New carpets, or some people
say wooden floors, help some people. Some people are allergic to
their old sofa (any excuse for a new one, and a leather sofa is
less allergenic). The current evidence concerning wooden floors is
that they generally do not make all that much difference.
- To diagnose your dust allergy,
a trip abroad can be helpful! If you are allergic to the dust in your
home a trip to the Bahamas can make you feel much better!
allergy returns as soon as you come back, you have made the diagnosis,
but the solution is more complex!
Lifestyle issues and Mediterranean
Lifestyle issues are critically important for patients with AKC
Summarising: stepwise treatment of allergic conjunctivitis, including children
Stepwise treatment of allergic conjunctivitis
- Look again at prevention, especially if
you are allergic to dust.
- Anti-dust measures such as freezing bedding/pillows/pillow cases
for a few hours or buying a new pillow or special covers can
- Healthy diet, vegetables, fish, exercise, no smoking, vitamin D, avoiding obesity
- vitamin D supplements
- Nedocromil and Lodoxamide Optichrom (or Rapitil) drops (completely safe).
- Lubricants such as Vismed, Hyloforte, Hyabak, Clinitas (sodium hyaluronate 0.4% preservative-free) evey 1/2 -2 hourly
- Night time lubricant: best VitApos at night, Xailin night second best.
- Cetrizine drops in US
- certainly seek your GPs help.
- Olopatadine (Opatanol) bd (twice/day) helps
many people. (or Ketotifen)
- At this stage it is best to seek specialist help if you are still
having severe problems,
tablets may help. You may need a slightly
higher than recommended dose if your hey fever is very troublesome. Cetirizine but there are many others. Levocetirizine (5mg >6y age), Loratidine Others.
- dexamethasone drops preservative free,
and this should not be used without an ophthalmologist's advice, unless
your GP is experienced in its use and you only use it for short periods, start 4 times a day for a week and reduce.
- Severe cases, guided by an ophthalmologist. Protopic: Occ tacrolimus 0.03 % bd to skin around eye, allowing a little to enter the eye.
- more severe patients may need immunosupression
VKC or AKC?
- VKC can start as a child, young adult or adult, and can continue for many years. It usually starts about age 8y, and is worse in spring and summer, and stops in the late teens.
- AKC develops in adulthood.
- VKC much commoner in tropics
- VKC males, young teens, south Asian and north African,
- AKC older
- AKC ..entropion etc
- AKC giant pap but then scars and featureless but still active
- AKC lower half of cornea affected
- VKC 95% remission
- VKC squamous cell ca in Africa
- VKC giant papillae, trantas dots, fissuring and pigment and ptosis..
- Cornea...VKC superior of cornea affected
- Vascularisation both AKC and VKC, VKC superior, inferior AKC
- There may be a corneal plaque, and the inflammation should be controlled before plaque removal.
- Chronic allergic conjunctivitis is linked to keratoconus and hydrops.
- linked to eczema and asthma.
- Infection, secondary
- herpes simplex may occur
Olapatidine, antihistamines, tacrolimus, (cyclosporine is less effective), pulsed steroid, systemic
- Lid Protopic
- bactroban is preferred antibiotic,
- shield ulcers. Once inflammation controlled, remove plaque subconjunctival and injection with steroid,
- AKC.. doxycycline