Dry Eye CausesDry Eye TreatmentEye Allergies

Allergies and Dry Eyes: What’s the Difference?

By May 13, 2022 December 15th, 2023 No Comments

Allergies and dry eyes are uncomfortable conditions that include many similar symptoms, such as burning, swelling, and redness. As a result, discerning between the two is a monumental task. Diagnosis requires the skill of an experienced dry eye specialist, who is able to identify the root cause and treat accordingly.


Eye Allergy Symptoms

Also known as allergic conjunctivitis, eye allergy symptoms can be seasonal (such as in the spring and fall), or perennial (year-round). The most common symptom of eye allergies is severe itchiness. Often, itching creates a strong need to rub the eyes, which in turn produces an itch-rub cycle that can lead to eyelid swelling and redness.

Dry Eye Disease Symptoms

Patients suffering from dry eye disease frequently present with symptoms similar to allergies. Those with dry eye disease don’t have enough tears or decent quality tears to keep their eyes adequately lubricated. Therefore, the extreme dryness associated with dry eye disease can create a burning sensation, in addition to redness.

However, the lack of tears doesn’t cause the extreme itchiness and swelling commonly found in allergy sufferers. As such, severe itching is the largest difference between allergies and dry eye syndrome.

Causes and Treatment

What Causes Eye Allergies?

Nearly one-fifth of the American population suffers from eye allergies. When the ocular surface is exposed to environmental allergens, antibodies are produced to fight them. As the primary antibody, histamine, is released, allergic reactions are soon to follow.

Many allergy sufferers experience seasonal symptoms, which typically heighten during the spring and fall. The month or season where symptoms arise is highly important when determining the cause and course of treatment.

For example, patients who note itchiness, redness, and swelling while outdoors during the springtime are likely allergic to tree pollen or grass. On the other hand, those who experience symptoms outside in the fall may be allergic to ragweed pollen.

The other type of ocular allergy occurs year-round. Perennial allergies present symptoms when the eyes are exposed to indoor environmental factors such as dust, pet dander, molds, or fragrances. As a result, a constant aggravation distinguishes perennial from seasonal.

What Causes Dry Eye Disease?

Just as there are several triggers for ocular conjunctivitis, so too are there differing causes for dry eye disease. Most cases of dry eye are due to a deficiency within the lipid, aqueous, or mucin layer of the tear film. However, the reason for inadequate tears can either be due to excessive evaporation or ineffective production.

Certain factors contribute to the root cause of a patient’s dry eye disease. They include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive screen time
  • Underlying health conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjrogren’s syndrome
  • Environmental factors, such as low humidity
  • Medications with ocular drying side effects
  • Past eye surgeries, such as LASIK

Many individuals attempt to self-diagnose their eye condition, and often believe that their symptoms are a result of allergies. Although millions of Americans suffer from allergies, it’s crucial to visit an eye specialist for a firm diagnosis and applicable treatment. Dry eye disease left untreated can lead to vision problems, so be sure not to dismiss similar symptoms.

Eye Allergy Treatment

Your allergies’ cause determines its treatment. Although you can’t avoid allergens in their entirety, the best way to prevent symptoms is to limit your exposure. Depending on your trigger, you may have to spend more time indoors on days where the pollen count is higher. In other cases, you might need to refrain from entering your friend’s house in an effort to protect yourself from their cat’s dander.

There are a variety of available over-the-counter products on the market to treat allergies. Although you may certainly take an oral antihistamine, such as Claritin or Allegra, be aware of their ocular drying side effects. The most effective medication treatment for eye allergies is a topical, preservative-free eye drop solution that works against all symptoms, as it reaches the affected tissue directly.

Dry Eye Disease Treatment

Dry eye treatment typically begins with a thorough explanation of the root cause. For example, if your optometrist finds that your condition is due to reduced blinking, they’ll advise you of its importance in keeping your eyes lubricated.

It’s likely that your reduced blinking is directly correlated with certain behaviors, such as prolonged screen time. When that’s the case, your optometrist will additionally suggest methods of modifying behaviors.

Other environmental factors, such as low humidity, can also be the cause of dry eye syndrome. For those experiencing symptoms due to dry air, purchasing a humidifier for your home can make all the difference. Smoky air can lead to dry eyes as well, so patients exposed to smoke on a daily basis should consider ways to avoid subjection.

When dry eye disease is caused by an underlying health condition, past procedure, age, gender, or medication, artificial tears may be recommended. If the symptoms are severe, certain prescribed eye drops can provide relief. Further, treatments such as inserting punctal plugs may be performed when eye drops don’t help.

Those who have modified behaviors and limited exposure to no avail may also be recommended artificial tears. It’s important to seek preservative-free eye drops so as to not further dry the ocular surface.

The Difference Between Allergies and Dry Eyes

Although both allergies and dry eyes present similar symptoms and triggers, they are entirely different conditions. Certain telltale signs can help optometrists identify the circumstances you’re experiencing. For instance, if your symptoms only arise during the spring and fall, you likely have allergies. Additionally, those who suffer from severe itchiness also probably experience allergies.

Conversely, if you identify with any of the caustic factors, such as underlying health conditions, it’s probable that you’re suffering from dry eye disease. Further, those exposed to environmental conditions, including excessive screen time and low humidity, also likely have dry eye disease.

Since the overlap between ocular allergies and dry eye disease is apparent, it’s crucial that you visit a trusted specialist. Optometrists can perform certain testing and apply their knowledge to identify your condition, as well as its cause, and create an individualized treatment plan. If you’re experiencing any symptoms related to allergies or dry eye disease, contact your eye doctor right away to find relief.

Get Relief from Your Allergies and Dry Eyes by Visiting Our Optometrists

The specialists at the Dry Eye Institute of St. Louis are highly trained and possess the skills necessary to distinguish whether you have eye allergies or dry eye disease. Further, our team utilizes industry-leading technology and methods to locate the root cause of your condition and provide a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan.

Although our practice specializes in the cause analysis, diagnosis, and treatment of dry eye syndrome, we’re a part of SureVision Eye Centers, where you can receive help for allergies. Don’t let the symptoms of allergies and dry eyes keep you from doing what you love – schedule an appointment with Dr. Bourn of the Dry Eye Institute today for relief. Complete our online form or give us a call today to get started.


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