Dry Eyes vs Allergies: How To Distinguish Between The Two

If you’re experiencing itchy or irritated eyes, you might start to wonder whether you’re suffering from dry eyes or allergies. The symptoms of both conditions crossover, sometimes making it challenging to understand the differences between the two. This guide will run through the differences in symptoms, allowing you to treat your eyes in the most effective way possible.

Spotting Allergy Symptoms

Eye allergies typically make your eyes puffy and look a bit swollen, and you might have sensitivity to light. Your eyes might be watery, and you may experience a burning sensation due the itchiness or from rubbing your eyes excessively. These symptoms, or a combination of them, may indicate that you’re struggling with an allergy.

Itchy and dry eyes are a common symptom of allergic conjunctivitis. If you don’t have any itchiness among your symptoms, chances are it’s a different issue.


Identifying Dry Eyes

Dry eye syndrome causes extreme dryness and may also cause a burning sensation. This is caused when the eyes don’t produce enough tears to keep them lubricated, which can lead to redness and irritation. But, unlike allergies, dry eyes don’t cause itchiness or swelling.

Over time, dry eyes can lead to vision problems, such as sensitivity to light and blurred vision. In rare cases, it can even cause permanent eye damage if you’re dealing with particularly severe dryness.

What Causes These Problems?

Eye allergies are caused by coming into contact with a substance that you’re allergic to. The reaction occurs when your body releases histamines to fight what it believes to be a threat.

Many people suffer from eye allergies seasonally, particularly when the pollen count is high during summer. However, for people who suffer from more extreme allergies, the symptoms may be experienced year-round. Allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, mould spores and perfume can also trigger allergic symptoms.

Millions of people suffer from dry eye syndrome, which is caused by a lack of tears or when tears dry up faster than normal. It’s common for dry eyes to be misdiagnosed as allergies, particularly for people who try to self-diagnose without speaking to a professional.

Potential causes of dry eyes are dehydration, low humidity, hormone fluctuations and smoking. If you spend long periods of time looking at screens, such as computers, your smartphone screen or TV, then this can also bring on dry eyes.

How To Treat These Conditions

Whether you have an allergy or suffer from dry eye syndrome, treatment options are available to alleviate your symptoms.

If it’s an allergy causing your issues, it’s best to prevent contact from the substances that you’re allergic to. It’s not always possible to know what those substances are but allergy testing may help to narrow it down. Oral antihistamines can also minimise the irritation, while allergy eye drops can provide instant relief.

If you have dry eyes, you need to be cautious about which eye drops you use, as those designed for allergies can actually make your symptoms worse. Instead, look for preservative-free eye drops or speak to your GP for prescription drops if your condition is more severe. Artificial tears can also help to aid lubrication on your eyes. If you’re a contact lens wearer, switching to a more hydrating solution such as silicone hydrogel contact lenses can help to minimise dryness and maintain comfort.


When To Seek Medical Advice

It’s common for people to suffer with eye allergies or dry eye syndrome, but in some cases, deeper medical issues might be to blame. If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you should consult with your GP straight away:

  • Pus or yellow discharge from the eye which is worse after sleeping. This can be a sign of a bacterial conjunctivitis infection, and this can be contagious
  • Red bump near the eye or on the eyelid
  • Cuts or tears on the eyelid, or blood on the whites of your eye
  • Difficulty seeing or blinking from one or both of your eyes, which may be a sign that something is lodged in your eye
  • Feeling like something is stuck in your eye, even after washing your eye with water or trying to blink it out
  • Intense pain in one or both of your eyes
  • Changes to the size, shape or colour of your pupil

In these instances, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible, as leaving it for too long could lead to more serious after-effects and problems with your vision long-term.

Final Thoughts

Both allergies and dry eye syndrome can seem very similar on the surface. Knowing the differences between the two will help to find suitable treatment.

It’s a good idea to speak to your GP or optician to have your eyes checked, to rule out any other conditions that may be causing your symptoms, and to know for sure whether you’re dealing with an allergy or dry eyes.