How to Tell the Difference Between Allergies & Dry Eye

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Picture this: you’re sitting at your favorite coffee shop, sipping a delicious latte when your eyes suddenly start to water and itch. Is it because of the breeze bringing in pollen from the sunny meadow outside, or is it the drying effects of the air conditioning? If you’ve ever had trouble discerning between allergies and dry eye, this post is for you. Let’s explore their differences to find out whether it’s time for antihistamines or eye drops! 

Understanding allergies 

Allergy season—it’s as predictable as the changing of the leaves. However, what’s not as predictable is the range of symptoms allergies can lead to and the confusion they can cause for unsuspecting sufferers. 

There are different types of allergies, including seasonal allergies (hay fever) or the perennial kind caused by dust mites and pet dander. Allergens are your body’s overreaction to harmless substances, which can lead to symptoms like: 

  • Runny nose 
  • Sneezing 
  • Itchy, red eyes 
  • Excessive tearing 
  • Congestion  
  • Headaches 

Understanding dry eye 

Dry eye is when your eyes don’t have enough moisture, leading to discomfort and irritation. It typically occurs when your eyes don’t make enough tears or when they make the wrong type of tears to lubricate your eyes. When this happens, you may experience:  

  • A stinging or burning sensation 
  • Excessive tearing (as a reflex mechanism) 
  • Mucus in or around the eyes 
  • Eye fatigue  
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Blurred vision 
  • A gritty feeling in the eyes 

Unlike allergies, where symptoms can often quickly come and go with the removal of a trigger, the symptoms of dry eye tend to persist over time.  

Distinguishing between the two  

Here are some key differences to help you differentiate between dry eye and allergies:  

Puffiness and swelling 

Eye puffiness or swelling is a common sign of allergies. This typically occurs after coming into contact with an allergen like dust mites, pollen, or pet dander. Dry eye, on the other hand, might cause mild or moderate eye fatigue that can be less noticeable unless you pay close attention. 

Itchy or sensitive eyes 

While itching can occur with both dry eye and allergies, it’s more predominant and often more intense with allergies. With dry eyes, you may notice other symptoms instead such as a gritty feeling in the eyes (like sand is in your eyes), stinging, burning, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision.  

Environmental sensitivity 

Allergies are more likely to flare up during certain seasons or in specific environments, such as outdoors or around pets. In comparison, dry eye tends to be more consistent and may get worse in windy or dry conditions. 

Discharge and vision changes 

If you suffer from allergies, you may notice a clear, watery type of discharge in addition to intense itching. In contrast, with dry eye, discharge often appears as stringy mucus. Additionally, allergies generally don’t cause significant blurry vision. Dry eye often does, especially at the end of the day or after focusing for extended periods without blinking. 

The only way to know for sure what’s causing your symptoms is to see an eye care professional at EyeQ Optical. Understanding the underlying cause of your eye symptoms is the first step toward long-term relief. Our eye doctor uses the latest technology to diagnose your condition and recommend the best treatment for your specific case. If dry eye is the issue, we offer expert dry eye treatment in Spokane Valley to keep your eyes healthy and comfortable. Give us a call today to book your appointment.  

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