Differences Between Seasonal Allergies and Dry Eye

Red, itchy and uncomfortable eyes? Struggling to wear your contact lenses because they are making your eyes feel worse? You could be suffering from seasonal allergies, dry eye syndrome, or maybe even both!

There are lots of things that can affect our eyes, but dry eye syndrome and allergies are two of the most common. Dry eye syndrome and allergies share some symptoms, so many people confuse the two. This can make it harder to find the correct treatment. Here’s what you need to know about seasonal allergies and dry eye and the crucial differences between them so that you know what you should do to alleviate your symptoms.

What are seasonal allergies?

Unsurprisingly, seasonal allergies are allergies that occur at certain times of the year. The reason for this is that the allergens that cause them are particularly prevalent during certain months. For example, high levels of flower pollen allergens are found in spring and summer.

Allergies occur when the body comes into contact with a usually harmless substance that it perceives as potentially dangerous, so it sets off defenses against it in the form of histamines – a chemical that causes itching, swelling, excessive watering, and other symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.

dry eye patient

What is dry eye?

Dry eye is a condition caused by problems with your tear film. In most cases of dry eye, the tears glands aren’t able to produce enough good quality tears, which makes them less effective at keeping your eyes lubricated. Tear film is essential for eye health too as it helps to remove dust, dirt, and other harmful particles and protect the eyes from infection. This means that if tear film is compromised, you are more likely to experience problems such as itching, grittiness, sensitivity to light, redness, blurred vision, and infections like conjunctivitis.

There are other factors that are thought to trigger the onset of dry eye. Some of these include age, hormonal changes, certain medical conditions, environmental factors, medications (such as antidepressants, acne medications, and contraceptives), contact lens use, and prolonged screen time are among numerous other factors.

Choosing the right treatment

Eye allergies and dry eye may share symptoms, but the treatments that are needed to ease your suffering are very different. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you speak to our eye doctor to obtain a diagnosis before trying to treat your symptoms. This will help ensure that you select the right treatment the first time.

Treating eye allergies. If you are diagnosed with eye allergies, your eye doctor will almost certainly recommend that you start on a course of antihistamines right away. Antihistamines are available in several forms, including oral medications and eye drops. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to use a combination of the two to see a significant improvement. Artificial lubricants (eye drops) may be used to hydrate your eyes, and if you wear contact lenses, your eye doctor may suggest that you switch to glasses when your symptoms are particularly bad. Wearing eye protection when in contact with allergens may help to reduce your exposure to them in the long term and help keep your symptoms under control.

Treating dry eye. Treatment for dry eye focuses on targeting inflammation and blockages in the tear glands which may be causing the condition. Anti-inflammatory eye drops are usually fairly successful, along with using artificial tears to add lubrication. If the glands responsible for tear film production are thought to be blocked, using warm compresses and gentle massage can break down hardened deposits and improve the quality of tear film. If your tear film is draining too quickly, artificial tears can help keep the surface of the eyes moist, while tiny plugs can be used to block drainage channels and trap tear film on the surface of the eyes for longer.

For more advice on either of these eye conditions or to schedule an appointment to talk to us about the symptoms you are experiencing, please contact our experienced eye care team today at 718-565-2020.