Atopic keratoconjunctivitis (AKC) is a rare but serious eye condition. AKC can cause various symptoms, including increased sensitivity to light, itching and burning eyes, and blurred vision.

AKC symptoms most commonly begin when a person is in their late teens or early 20s. The peak incidence of the disease occurs between 30 and 50 years of age.

In this article, we look at AKC in more detail, including its symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment. We also look at the outlook for people with this condition.

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AKC is the result of a condition called atopy. Atopy is the name for the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases.

Atopy often causes the immune system to produce a higher-than-normal number of antibodies in response to common allergens.

In people with AKC, the body’s abnormal allergic response causes inflammation to occur in the lining of the eyelids and the surface of the eyes.

This inflammation causes a range of symptoms that affect the eyelids and the eyes.

A characteristic symptom of AKC is the eyelids becoming thick and crusty and developing fissures.

A person with AKC may also experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • increased sensitivity to light
  • itchy eyes
  • burning in the eyes
  • increased tearing
  • discolored and hardened eyelids
  • blurred vision
  • white discharge from the eye

The onset of eye-related symptoms may occur several years after the person has developed atopy.

A person will often experience symptoms throughout the year, but they may worsen in the winter.

AKC is a genetic condition that is the result of atopy.

Atopy causes the body to produce excessive numbers of antibodies in response to an allergen.

This leads to inflammation occurring in the eyelids and the surface of the eyes, which causes the symptoms of AKC.

Several factors increase a person’s chances of developing AKC.

The risk factors for this disease include:

Certain allergens may worsen the symptoms of AKC.

A doctor will often begin the diagnosis of AKC by asking about the person’s medical history. They will look for evidence that the person has asthma or atopic dermatitis, both of which increase a person’s risk of developing AKC.

The doctor may also ask about the person’s family history. A history of atopic diseases in the family may also increase the individual’s risk of AKC.

The next stage of the process will involve asking the person about their symptoms and examining their eyes and eyelids.

As the symptoms of AKC are similar to those of other conditions, doctors may sometimes carry out a differential diagnosis to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Conditions that it may be easy to confuse for AKC include:

  • vernal keratoconjunctivitis
  • seasonal allergic conjunctivitis
  • giant papillary conjunctivitis
  • phlyctenular keratoconjunctivitis
  • toxic conjunctivitis
  • infections conjunctivitis
  • ocular rosacea

As part of the differential diagnosis, a doctor may carry out a conjunctival biopsy. This procedure involves the removal of a small piece of inflamed tissue. Technicians then test this tissue in a lab to determine the cause of the inflammation.

AKC can be difficult to diagnose. Getting the correct diagnosis is important, as this can help prevent corneal involvement, which may lead to permanent visual disability if the person does not receive suitable treatment.

Treatments are available to help people control the symptoms of AKC.

A doctor may prescribe a combination of antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers, which a person may take orally or in the form of a topical cream or ointment.

In more severe cases of AKC, a person may require more aggressive treatment with topical or systemic immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids, tacrolimus, or cyclosporin.

A person with AKC may also be at risk of damaged eyes due to scratching and rubbing. The reason for this is that their eyes are more sensitive to touch.

An ophthalmologist may advise a person to wear cotton gloves at night to prevent them from unintentionally damaging the surface of their eyes.

The opthalmologist may also recommend using cold compresses and saline irrigation to lower the elevated pH of the person’s tears to prevent damage to the eye.

The symptoms of AKC tend to begin before a person reaches their late 20s and can persist into the fourth or fifth decade of a person’s life.

Treatments can control the symptoms and prevent further damage to the eyes. With the correct treatment, a person can have no symptoms and experience an improvement in their quality of life. A person can also manage their symptoms by avoiding contact with known allergens that worsen the symptoms of AKC.

If a person does not receive appropriate treatment, they may develop corneal involvement in one or both eyes, which can result in sight loss.

AKC is a rare autoimmune disease that affects the eyes and eyelids. It typically appears when a person is in their late teens or early 20s.

If a person has AKC, their body produces large numbers of antibodies to fight an allergen, which causes inflammation to occur in the eyelids and eyes. This inflammation is responsible for the symptoms of the disease, which include sensitivity to light, itchy eyes, burning in the eyes, and blurred vision.

A person can treat the symptoms of AKC with a combination of oral or topical antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers. In very serious cases, a person may require a more aggressive treatment, such as topical or systemic immunosuppressive drugs.

With the correct treatment, a person can manage their symptoms, and they may experience no symptoms at all.

However, a lack of treatment can cause the symptoms to worsen and put the person at risk of losing their sight.