Many problems that affect our eyes share some of the same symptoms, including dry eyes and allergies that affect the eyes. Unfortunately, this can make them difficult to tell apart and to know which treatments you should use to help alleviate your symptoms. Here’s what you need to know about how to tell the difference between dry eye and allergies, and what you can do to treat them.
Our eyes rely on a layer of tear film to keep them comfortable and protect them. This tear film is made of a complex blend of water, oils, and protein that lubricates the surface of the eyes.
Dry eyes are a condition that shares its name with the main symptom that it causes. Dry eyes are caused by problems with the tear film that usually covers the surface of the eyes. Either there isn’t enough of it, it drains away too quickly or there isn’t enough oil in it, compromising the quality of the tear film and making it less effective. The latter is nearly always caused by a condition called meibomian gland dysfunction. This is where the glands responsible for oil production stop working properly, usually because of hardened oil deposits blocking the oil from getting into the tear film.
Anyone can get dry eyes, but there are some factors that are believed to increase the risk of developing the condition. These include:
Being over the age of 50
Spending a lot of time using screens, such as computers and smartphones
Spending a lot of time in dry, dusty, or windy environments
Not drinking enough water
Having specific medical conditions or taking certain medications
There are a range of symptoms associated with dry eyes, and these include:
A gritty sensation in the eyes
Mucus around the eyes
Sensitivity to light
Sudden flooding of the eyes with tear film (the body’s emergency response to dry eye)
If you experience any of these issues, we recommend that you speak to your eye doctor to obtain a diagnosis and treatment.
Fortunately, there are many different treatments which are proven to be effective at reducing the symptoms of dry eye. These range from over-the-counter remedies like artificial tears to prescription eyedrops, thermal pulsation devices and surgically-placed implants. Your eye doctor will be happy to talk you through the various options and help you find the variety that it best for you.
Allergies occur when the body perceives a usually harmless substance as dangerous and tries to defend itself against it by releasing a chemical called histamine. There are many different types of allergies and they can affect the body in a variety of ways. Lots of people find that when their eyes encounter certain substances, this allergic reaction happens. These are eye allergies, and they can happen in response to lots of different stimuli, including:
Pollen (tree, grass and flower)
The severity of allergies can vary considerably, and some are worse at particular times of the year. For example, pollen allergies are often worse in the spring.
There are also many symptoms associated with eye allergies, and no two patients will necessarily react in the same way. Some of the symptoms that someone with eye allergies might experience could include:
Watery discharge from the eyes
Sensitivity to light
Redness of the eyes
Congestion, like a stuffy head or nose
Coughing or sneezing
Again, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we would advise that you speak to your general practitioner or your eye doctor to obtain a diagnosis and support.
There are a number of options for treating eye allergies and your healthcare professional will provide you with more information about these, helping you to find the variety that gives you the greatest relief from your symptoms. Treatments could include antihistamines, anti-inflammatories and, in cases of serious allergies, immunosuppressants.
If you would like more advice on the differences between dry eyes and eye allergies, or to schedule an appointment with our experienced team, call Volusia Eye Associates at our office in New Smyrna Beach or Edgewater, Florida. You can call (386) 427-4143 or (386) 230-0300 today to schedule an appointment.