Eye Allergies Are Common
Allergies are one of the most common chronic conditions, affecting 1 in 6 Americans. When our immune system overreacts to allergens, such as pollen or pet hair, we experience an allergic reaction. As a result, you may have the occasional allergic reaction or deal with allergens every day.
Eye allergies can be distracting and potentially harmful. You may be familiar with some allergy symptoms, like sneezing or a stuffy nose. But can you name all the eye symptoms allergies can cause? Although dry eye and eye allergies share similar symptoms, can allergies cause dry eyes?
What Is Dry Eye?
Dry eye affects tear production, resulting in too few or poor-quality tears. Tears are a crucial part of your eye health. The tear film keeps the eye’s surface clean, prevents infection, and provides nourishment.
Temporary dry eye can occur because of too little sleep, a dry environment, or inadequate hydration. However, dry eye disease (or dry eye syndrome) is a chronic problem affecting vision and eye health long-term.
Common symptoms of dry eye include:
- Blurry vision
- Burning or scratchy eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Stringy mucus
- Watery eyes
Without treatment, chronic dry eye can lead to complications affecting sight and eye health, including infections and cornea scarring.
What Causes Dry Eye?
There are many potential causes of dry eye, including eye conditions, medications, environment, health, and eye surgeries. Some common causes of dry eye include:
- Age (50+)
- Autoimmune disorders
- Digital eye strain
- Hormonal & thyroid problems
- Long-term contact lens wear
- Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)
- Refractive eye surgery
Dry eye can be a symptom of allergies, but it can also be a separate issue. It’s essential to have regular eye exams to assess your eye health and diagnose the cause of eye symptoms.
How Allergies Affect Your Eyes
Allergies can affect your eyes, even if the allergen doesn’t directly touch your eye. Your symptoms may be caused by a whole-body immune response or the result of an allergen irritating facial tissues.
For example, the sinuses are located in hollow spaces above, between, behind, and below the eyes. When your sinuses are infected or inflamed, it’s not unusual to feel it in your eyes. Even a toothache can cause eye swelling or discomfort!
Eye allergies, or allergic conjunctivitis, are direct eye irritation. Allergic conjunctivitis affects more than 20% of the population. Unlike other forms of conjunctivitis (pink eye), allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. Instead, it’s only caused by allergens or irritants, which can be a response unique to you.
Some common eye symptoms of allergies include:
- Burning or irritation
- Excessively watery eyes
- Dry eyes
- Eyelid swelling
- Itchy eyes
- Light sensitivity
You may also experience puffy eyes, known as allergic shiners. Alternatively, allergic shiners can look like bruises or dark circles under your eyes.
There are many types of allergies. How you react the first time may not be accurate to how you’ll react a second time. You may initially experience mild symptoms, but the severity may worsen. Although most allergic reactions occur within minutes of exposure, it’s also possible to have a slower or delayed response occurring several hours later.
Some common types of allergies include:
- Pets & animals
Allergies can cause dry eyes, but dryness can also be a side effect of your allergy medication. Antihistamines can make dry eye worse. The medicine can affect tear production, creating fewer tears.
If your allergy medication is affecting tear production, talk to your doctor. They may recommend changing the dosage or trying an alternative medication. Also, visit your optometrist for more dry eye relief options, including eye drops or tips on improving eye moisture.
Preventing Allergies & Dry Eye
Depending on what you’re allergic to, there are various steps you can take to prevent or treat your allergy symptoms(including dry eyes). Some general tips include:
- Applying artificial tears to add moisture & wash allergens out of your eyes
- Closing windows when pollen counts are high
- Using air purifier devices to reduce allergens indoors
- Washing your hands & avoiding touching your eyes after petting a dog or cat
- Wearing sunglasses outside to help keep pollen out of your eyes
Artificial tears can help relieve dry eye and allergy symptoms, but it’s crucial to choose the right type of eye drops. Many eye drops contain preservatives to extend their use and prevent bacteria buildup. However, some people are sensitive to preservatives, either initially or after long-term use.
Using preservative-free eye drops may be better when considering eye drops for allergies. Your optometrist can recommend which eye drops may benefit you or suggest alternatives.
Alleviate Eye Allergies & Dry Eye
Regardless of the cause, treating eye allergies or dry eye can improve eye comfort and health. So when you’re experiencing any eye symptoms or vision difficulties, contact us. Eye exams allow us to determine your eye care needs and discuss personalized solutions. Book an appointment with Park Slope Eye today!