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Dry Eyes vs. Allergies: How To Tell The Difference

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Posted in Allergies, Dry Eye
Woman rubbing her eyes because of dry eye or allergies

Dry eye occurs when the eyes aren’t able to produce enough tears, or enough high-quality tears, to keep your eyes lubricated. This frequently leads to burning, irritated eyes.

Allergies can cause similar symptoms to occasional dry eye, so it can be hard to tell which of these 2 issues you are suffering from. Because many of the symptoms overlap, the root cause of your dry, irritated, achy, or tired eyes may not be immediately apparent.

So, how can you tell if you are suffering from allergies or occasional dry eye, and how are the two different issues treated?

What Causes Dry Eye?

Dry eyes have 2 main root causes: Either the eye does not produce enough tears to keep itself lubricated, or the tears do not contain the correct ratio of ingredients, a condition known as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction or MGD. 

Our tears are made from 3 components: the lipid or oil layer, the aqueous (water) layer, and the mucus layer. Each ingredient is crucial for producing high-quality tears. MGD causes the glands in the eyelids to become blocked or fail to produce the oil needed to produce high-quality tears, causing dry eyes. 

What Causes Allergies?

Allergies occur when our bodies are exposed to allergens such as pollen, dust, or pet dander. Allergies can be either seasonal, such as a pollen allergy, or occur year-round. Individuals who have allergies have overreactive immune systems that spring into defence mode when confronted with harmless irritants. This reaction causes the body to release histamines, which in turn causes swelling and inflammation and can lead to scratchy, irritated eyes that may be mistaken for dry eye.

The Symptoms Of Allergies & Dry Eye

The first thing you should do is consult with your eye care professional. This will help you identify the root cause of your eye irritation. Although both dry eye and allergies can cause scratchy or irritated eyes, dry eye is typically more severe, so it is important to receive an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible.

Both dry eyes and allergies have other symptoms beyond irritated eyes. To help you determine which root cause is more likely, here are lists of symptoms for each.

Older woman rubbing her eyes because of dry eye.

Dry Eye Symptoms

Dry eye symptoms include:

  • Mucus around the eye.
  • A feeling of something being “caught” in the eye.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Sensitivity to light.

Allergy Symptoms

Eye-related allergy symptoms include:

  • Swollen eyelids.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Watery discharge.
  • Congestion or a runny nose in addition to one or all of the previous symptoms.

Beyond What Appears To The Naked Eye

Without an eye care professional’s help, it can be hard to truly know if we are suffering from dry eye, allergies, or a different condition altogether. By speaking to your eye care professional, they can determine which condition you have and create a tailored treatment plan to suit your needs.

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