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Occasional Dry Eye vs. Seasonal Allergies: Symptoms, Causes, and Solutions

Ah, spring! After a long cold winter, warm weather can’t get here quick enough. Yet, for some people, the spring season is as dreadful as a trip to the dentist. The reason: allergies. Seasonal allergies can cause a host of eye issues, and the symptoms are very similar to occasional dry eye. So, how can you be sure if the itchy, gritty, tired eyes are the symptoms of seasonal allergies or occasional dry eye?

Occasional Dry Eye

Nearly 5 million Americans suffer from occasional dry eye, an issue where the eyes can’t produce enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eyes. There are multiple causes for occasional dry eye, including age, certain medical conditions and medications, or post eye surgery such as LASIK, cataract, or glaucoma surgery.

Occasional Dry Eye SymptomsDry Eyes, eye allergy

  • Burning (primary sign)
  • Corneal and conjunctival staining
  • Reduced tear production
  • Sandy and gritty feeling
  • Feeling of a foreign particle in the eye
  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea of the eye)
  • “Tired” eyes or eye fatigue
  • Photophobia (rarely)

Seasonal Allergies

Allergies affect 50 million Americans every year, and 30 million people experience seasonal-specific allergies. With these seasonal symptoms, 70-80% of people experience eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis. Pollen from grass, weeds, and trees are the main culprits for seasonal allergies.

Seasonal Allergies Symptoms

  • Itching (primary sign)
  • Swollen lids
  • Watery eyes
  • Burning
  • Feeling of a foreign particle in the eye

Distinguishing Which is Which

So, which one do you have? There are a few questions you can answer to help you distinguish between allergies or occasional dry eye:

  • Do you have a family history of allergies?
  • When performing certain activities, do you have incidents of intense itching with tearing, redness, or swelling?
  • Do you ever use eye drops for itching or redness?
  • Do you use oral antihistamines at any time of year?
  • Are symptoms more noticeable when reading, watching TV, or using a digital device?
  • Do you notice symptoms more under certain climatic conditions like central air conditioning, forced hot air heating, or very dry weather?
  • When you rub your eyes, does it provide relief or make matters worse?
    • Rubbing the eyes can stimulate tears and relieve discomfort for those with occasional dry eye.
    • Adversely, patients with allergies will feel worse because it causes mast cell degranulation, a process that allows allergens to attach to the receptors in the eyes and cause the reaction.

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Sources

  1. Bowling, Ernie L. “Is It Dry Eye, Allergy or Both?” Review of Optometry, Jobson Medical Information LLC., Sept. 2012, reviewofoptometry.com/ce/is-it-dry-eye-allergy-or-both.
  2. Dang, Shirley. “The Link between Seasonal Allergens and Dry Eye.” Edited by Devin A Harrison, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 20 Apr. 2017, aao.org/eye-health/news/allergies-linked-to-dry-eye.
  3. Torkildsen, Gail, et al. “Dry Eye or Allergy: How to Make the Call.” Review of Ophthalmology, Jobson Medical Information LLC., 30 Dec. 2005, reviewofophthalmology.com/article/dry-eye-or-allergy-how-to-make-the-call.
  4. Kabat, Alan. “How to Differentially Diagnose and Treat Dry Eye, Allergy.” Healio, Healio, Nov. 2004, healio.com/optometry/cornea-external-disease/news/print/primary-care-optometry-news/%7B9a36e7a1-f61c-4c1c-afec-1d84ef52ae4e%7D/how-to-differentially-diagnose-and-treat-dry-eye-allergy.
  5. Groves, Nancy. “Allergy or Dry Eye: Which Is It?” OphthalmologyTimes, UBM Medica, LLC., 15 Mar. 2016, modernmedicine.com/ophthalmologytimes/news/allergy-or-dry-eye-which-it.

4 thoughts on “Occasional Dry Eye vs. Seasonal Allergies: Symptoms, Causes, and Solutions

  1. Good post. Thank you for sharing these details on the seasonal allergies and occasional dry eye. So we will be also able to differentiate between the two in order to go with the proper treatment. Also sore eyes, red eyes, light sensitivity, blurred vision are among the most common symptoms of dry eyes.

  2. Eye allergy and occasional dry eye can happen to anyone irrespective of the season. In today’s polluted atmosphere, eye care is of utmost importance. Treatment of these issues as quickly as possible is very important.

  3. My eyes have always given me problems for as long as I can remember during the spring and fall months. As you listed above, I do think it is seasonal allergies because I do get itching and some tearing primarily. Granted, I think it would be best to go see an allergy doctor to make sure that it is in fact allergies and not something else.

  4. The fact that eye allergies are seasonal is a myth; it’s possible to suffer year-round with allergies. For example, people with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) have symptoms that peak in the spring and fall. Those with perennial allergic conjunctivitis (PAC) tend to have milder symptoms all year long. Both SAC and PAC have similar symptoms and are treated in the same way.

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