There are many different issues that can affect our eyes during our lifetime. Two of the most common are eye allergies and dry eyes. Dry eye and eye allergy sufferers may experience many of the same symptoms and so this can make identifying which they are affected by a little more difficult. However, they are not the same thing and allergies do not cause dry eyes – just some very similar symptoms.
Your eye doctor will be able to assess your symptoms and evaluate your eyes to determine whether you are being affected by allergies or dry eyes, or in some cases, both. One of the ways in which your eye doctor may be able to tell which you have is by asking you to describe how you feel when you rub your eyes. This is because the effects of this action will normally vary. Patients who have dry eyes usually find that rubbing their eyes stimulates tear production, and this can provide some relief from their discomfort. However, the opposite is true in people with eye allergies. This is because rubbing increases the body’s allergic response, making symptoms worse.
Here’s what you need to know about the two different conditions so that you may be able to determine which you are experiencing.
While most people associate allergies with runny or stuffed noses, coughing, and sneezing, the truth is that our eyes are just as often affected by any allergies that we have. Allergies occur when our bodies see a harmless organism as a hostile and dangerous invader and try to fight it, which they do by triggering our immune system to release histamines that can target and destroy it. However, histamines themselves produce a range of different effects, and these manifest as the symptoms associated with allergies.
Eye allergies can be triggered by a variety of substances including dust, pollen, pet fur, smoke, perfume, and even some foods. The symptoms that are associated with eye allergies include the following:
- Red, swollen eyes
- Burning sensations
- Stickiness that can sometimes cause the eyes to stick together, particularly first thing in the morning
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred vision
However, there is one symptom that occurs in nearly every single case – itching. This is because irritation and itching are some of the main effects of histamine release.
Fortunately, there are a number of different treatments that can help patients to keep their allergies under control. These include antihistamines and immunotherapy and your eye doctor will be able to advise you on the best course of treatment to relieve your symptoms and keep your allergies under control.
Dry eyes are estimated to affect as many as 22% of the population, making the condition one of the most common ocular issues to affect the population. Dry eyes occur for one of several reasons. These are:
- There is a deficiency in one or all of the components of the tear film (which usually consists of a careful balance of oil, water, and protein).
- There is a blockage in the glands responsible for tear film production.
- The glands that produce tear film are no longer working effectively.
It is more common in patients over the age of 55, females, and contact lens wearers. It is also often experienced by patients who work in very dusty, dry, or air-conditioned environments.
Although not considered a serious condition, dry eyes can be very debilitating for the sufferer. The primary symptoms associated with severe or chronic dry eyes include:
- Stinging or burning sensations in your eyes
- Scratchiness of the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Stringy mucus
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty with driving at night
There is a range of different treatments available, from over the counter and prescription eyedrops to medications and treatment techniques such as massage and eye inserts. Your eye doctor will discuss these with you and will help you to find the solution that gives you the greatest relief from your symptoms.
For more information on eye allergies or dry eyes, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert eyecare team.