Do you have red, itchy, irritated eyes? You might be experiencing the effects of an allergy. Allergies can cause various eye-related symptoms, from watery eyes to dryness, and can be triggered by multiple allergens, such as pollens, pet dander, dust, or mold.
This article will explain how allergies can cause dry eyes and provide tips on managing the condition.
Can Allergies Make Your Eyes Dry?
Yes, allergies can make your eyes dry. Medically referred to as allergic conjunctivitis, this condition is just one of many possible symptoms that can develop during a reaction. It's characterized by itchiness, redness, sensitivity, and discomfort and often presents itself in tandem with other common allergy symptoms.
It is important to note that dry eyes from allergies are not contagious, unlike bacterial and viral conjunctivitis. They simply represent the body's inflammatory response to allergen exposure.
How Do Allergies Cause Dry Eyes?
Allergies can contribute to dry eyes in a number of ways. The most common is through a reaction itself; when your body is exposed to an allergen, it mistakes the substance as a threat and releases a chemical called histamine to start a defensive immune response.
Like practically every other part of the body, the eyes are connected to the immune system and are among the first to respond during an immune system response. For some people with allergies, this response can involve an under or overproduction of tears, tissue inflammation, swelling, and itchiness. Occurring together, they characterize allergic conjunctivitis and can be uncomfortable to experience.
In some cases, it's possible for a primary allergic reaction of dry eyes to cause a longer-lasting effect. Several prominent clinical studies have linked chronic allergy symptoms with the development of dry eye disease and dry eye syndrome, a condition in which the body is unable to produce enough tears to properly lubricate the eyes on a long-term basis.
Types of Eye Allergies
Although they're broadly characterized by the same discomfort, dry eyes can be broken down into several different subtypes. Below is an explanation of each of these conditions and the specific characteristics that set them apart.
Seasonal or Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis
Perennial and seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is one of the most common forms of allergy-induced dry eye. It can occur on either a consistent (perennial) or seasonal basis in response to airborne allergens like pollen, grass, mold spores, dust mites, and ragweed.
Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis is a relatively rare type of eye allergy that affects the eye's ocular surface. It is seasonally recurring and bilateral, and can severely scar the cornea if left untreated.
Atopic keratoconjunctivitis is another distinctive form of eye allergy, often affecting individuals with a history of atopic dermatitis. This condition causes many of the characteristic symptoms of dry eye but is chronic and potentially blinding.
Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis
Giant papillary conjunctivitis refers to cases of dry eye in which the inner layer of the eyelid becomes inflamed. It develops when the eyelid comes into physical contact with an irritant in the eye, causing swelling and redness.
What Else Causes Dry Eyes?
There are a number of causes of dry eye beyond allergies. These include environmental factors, medical conditions, and lifestyle choices. Certain medications and medical treatments may also have an influence. Below are some of the most common factors that cause dry eyes outside of allergies.
Antihistamines are a type of over-the-counter (OTC) medication used to treat allergy symptoms. They target the key chemical released during a reaction, histamine, and can relieve common discomforts like hives, sneezing, congestion, and a runny nose. However, antihistamines also have several potential side effects, including dry eye. This means that it's possible to develop the symptom as a result of treating other allergy-related ones.
Dehydration is the lack of sufficient moisture in the body, which can significantly impact the eyes. When deprived of water, the tear-producing glands can become dry, resulting in uncomfortable and vision-impairing symptoms.
Long-term Use of Contact Lenses
Contact lenses can be a great way to correct vision problems, but long-term use of them can lead to significant dry eye symptoms. This includes giant papillary conjunctivitis, which is commonly caused by soft contact lenses.
LASIK Eye Surgery
LASIK is a common laser eye surgery used to correct vision problems. The procedure typically has few side effects, but it can leave many patients with persistent dry eye symptoms for up to a year after the operation. This is due to the disruption that its lasers can cause on the delicate tissues of the eye.
Smoking is another common cause of dry eyes. Not only does it reduce the protective lubrication around the eye, but it also contains toxins that can further damage the delicate tear-producing glands.
Pregnancy and Menopause
Pregnancy and menopause are two of the most common hormone-related causes of dry eyes. During these times, changes to the body's levels of certain hormones can lead to a decreased production of tears or an impaired ability to deliver them. This often-temporary form of dry eye typically begins to subside within a few weeks of the end of pregnancy or menopause.
Certain medical conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause severe immune system problems. This, in turn, can lead to changes in the body's tear-producing glands, resulting in a progressively worsening dry eye condition.
Blepharitis is one of many infections capable of affecting the eyelid. It causes inflammation of the lid's outer margin, reducing tear production and increasing irritation or discomfort.
Dry Eye Allergy Symptoms
Certain forms of dry eye can cause distinct symptoms, and that's especially true when it comes to those that are allergy-induced. The following is a breakdown of some of the most characteristic traits associated with dry eye allergic reactions.
Itchiness is the most significant factor that separates allergy-induced dry eyes from non-allergy-induced dry eyes. Those with allergies may experience a constant tingling sensation in their eyes, along with an urge to rub or scratch them.
Redness In or Around the Eyes
Redness is one of the most common symptoms associated with allergies. It typically appears in or around the eyes due to irritation caused by histamine, a naturally occurring chemical released when allergens are present.
Watery discharge is also a common symptom of dry eye allergies. It typically appears as tears streaming down the face, but it can also present itself as a stringy mucus-like substance near the eyes.
Those with dry eye allergies may also experience burning sensations around their eyes. This is usually caused by the constant irritation of allergens, and it can cause significant discomfort.
Swelling of the Eyelids
In some cases, allergies can cause the eyelids to swell. This can be uncomfortable, and it may impair vision if left untreated.
Under-Eye Circles or Allergic Shiners
Dark under-eye circles, sometimes referred to as allergic shiners, are another common byproduct of allergic eye reactions. They're caused by fluid accumulation beneath the eyes, directly resulting from the body's attempt to flush out irritants.
How to Treat Dry Eyes From Allergies
You can also alleviate dry eye symptoms in several ways, including eye drops, warm compresses, and artificial tears. Eye drops are especially beneficial in temporarily reducing redness and itching, while artificial tears can help replenish the moisture in the eyes and reduce irritation.
In addition, certain lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms - such as reducing screen time, avoiding smoke, and drinking plenty of water. Taking breaks from contact lenses can help, too.
How to Prevent Dry Eyes
Dry eyes can be prevented by identifying and avoiding potential allergens and managing any underlying medical conditions. If a certain type of contact lens is causing dry eyes, changing brands or switching to glasses can help.
Keeping the eyes moist is also key. This means drinking plenty of fluids, using humidifiers, and avoiding smoke.
Those with dry eyes may also benefit from taking supplements designed to reduce symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed oil, and vitamin E capsules may help mitigate dry eye discomfort.
When to See a Doctor
While dry eye isn't inherently serious, there are some points where assessment and treatment from a medical professional may be necessary.
Concerning symptoms to look out for include:
- Pus or yellowish discharge from the eye
- Crusty buildup in the eye
- A red bump on or near the eyelid
- Difficulty blinking or seeing in one or both eyes
- Tears or cuts on the eyelid
- Blood on the white part of the eye
- Feeling of something 'stuck' in the eye after attempts to wash it out
- consistent pain in one or both eyes
- changes to pupil size, color, or shape
You should also see a doctor if you think your dry eyes are being caused by allergies. An allergy doctor can help you identify what you’re allergic to and create a personalized treatment plan to get you long-term relief.
How Are Dry Eyes From Allergies Diagnosed?
Diagnosing allergy-induced dry eye requires getting tested for allergies and any specific sensitivities you may have. This will unveil whether you're likely to react adversely to certain irritants and make it easier to see whether they directly cause your symptoms.
Allergy tests are commonly done in two main ways: skin prick testing or at-home testing.
The first, skin prick testing, requires scheduling an appointment at the doctor's office. They'll expose you to small amounts of various common allergens through small pricks of the skin to observe how you react in real time. Although it's the main way people have tested for allergies over the years, it's largely unpopular for the discomfort and stress involved.
At-home testing is a newer alternative to the conventional skin prick option. At Wyndly, our at-home allergy tests can be taken from the comfort of your home and only require a small finger prick. This method is just as comprehensive yet much more accessible and affordable than a visit to the doctor.
You have several options when it comes to treating the allergies behind dry eye symptoms.
Exposure reduction is the fastest way to control allergies and can be achieved by limiting contact with the substances that cause them.
- Watch pollen counts: If you're allergic to pollen, pay attention to outdoor pollen levels and avoid areas with particularly high concentrations.
- Wear a mask: A mask can help block allergens from entering your nose and reduce the chances of developing an allergic reaction.
- Limit outdoor time to evening hours: Pollen levels tend to be highest during midday and late afternoon, so if you go outside, try to avoid these times.
- Shower more frequently: Frequent showering can help reduce the number of allergens you carry on your body and, in turn, the severity of your symptoms.
- Wash clothes more frequently: Wash your clothing after being outdoors to reduce pollen and other allergens from sticking around in your home.
- Trim branches: If you are allergic to tree pollen, regularly trimming the trees around your home can help reduce symptoms.
- Keep windows closed: Keep your windows shut during allergy season to prevent pollen from getting in.
- Keep your home clean: Use a HEPA filter vacuum and dust often to help remove any pollen that does get into your home.
In some cases, you may need medication to help control your allergies, such as:
- OTC antihistamines: Antihistamine medications such as Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec can temporarily help reduce the severity of allergic reactions.
- Eye drops: Using eye drops specifically made for dry eyes can help reduce the itching and burning sensation caused by allergies, providing short-term relief.
- Prescription medications: Depending on the severity of your allergies, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication to help control them.
Sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT, is a newer treatment option for allergies. It involves taking drops or tablets of allergen extract under the tongue daily to help the body become desensitized to that particular allergen. Over time, it can reduce the severity of reactions and even stop them altogether.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you're suffering from dry eye symptoms due to allergies, Wyndly's at-home allergy test kit and sublingual immunotherapy can provide an effective and convenient solution. Find out if Wyndly is right for you by taking our quick online assessment today!