Millions of Americans suffer from dry eye syndrome (DES) yearly, and that can be an unpleasant experience. Its symptoms often cause discomfort and can negatively impact the way people go about their daily activities.
Ocular allergies are also prevalent and share similar symptoms with DES like inflammation, itchy eyes, and irritation, which people experience mostly during allergy season when there is an increased amount of allergens like pollen and dust in the atmosphere.
In this blog post, we take a closer look at both eye conditions and try to understand the connection between them. We also emphasize the importance of seeking professional help if you're experiencing eye discomfort, whether from ocular allergies, dry eye, or both.
Understanding Dry Eye Syndrome: Symptoms and Causes
Dry eye is what happens when your eyes do not produce enough tears, or when the tears dry out too quickly, leading to symptoms like irritation, eye reddening, burning, and a feeling of grittiness in the eyes.
Some of the factors that contribute to dry eye include age, dry weather conditions, certain health conditions, as well as certain medications. Its treatments range from over-the-counter or prescription eyedrops to in-office dry eye treatments, like LipiFlow, Optilight, and Blephex. You may also be advised to quit habits like smoking and excessive digital screen use.
In some cases, other treatments may be recommended, such as punctal plugs, which are tiny devices inserted into the tear ducts to block the drainage of tears and keep the eyes moist.
Understanding Ocular Allergies: Symptoms and Causes
Ocular allergies are caused by allergens such as dust, pollen, and pet dander. This often leads to symptoms like itching, redness, uncontrollable tears, and eyelid swelling. Some people may also experience a burning or gritty sensation in their eyes.
If you suspect that you have ocular allergies, it's important to see an eye doctor for a proper diagnosis and the right treatment, as it may be easy to confuse dry eye for ocular allergies (and vice versa) due to their similar symptoms. Just as with dry eye, over-the-counter and prescription eye drops also work for ocular allergies. You may be advised to avoid allergens when possible, and immunotherapy may also be recommended to help desensitize the immune system to allergens over time.
How Ocular Allergies and Dry Eye Syndrome Can Worsen Each Other
Even though DES and ocular allergies are two separate conditions, they share a strong link in operation and effects. For instance, when ocular allergies cause inflammation in the eyes, it can result in reduced tear production— and that in turn can bring about dry eye symptoms like redness, itching, and burning. In fact, studies have shown that this can happen in about 60% of ocular allergy cases.
Excessive tearing due to allergies can also lead to a depletion of the lipid layer (an oily film on the surface of the eyes that keeps tears from drying out too quickly). So even though it sounds counterintuitive, too many tears can actually lead to dry eye syndrome.
Additionally, antihistamines and decongestants used in ocular allergy treatment can reduce tear production, worsening dry eye symptoms.
Similarly, DES can also have a negative effect on ocular allergies by making the eyes more sensitive to allergens and irritants. This is because when the eyes are dry, they are more likely to become inflamed and irritated, which can cause ocular allergy symptoms to become more severe.
How To Know If You Have Dry Eye Syndrome or Ocular Allergies
To determine if you have dry eye syndrome or ocular allergies, you need to see an eye doctor.
While the symptoms of both conditions may be similar, the causes and treatments are different. Dry eye syndrome occurs due to a lack of quality tears, while ocular allergies are caused by allergens.
An accurate diagnosis is essential for the right treatment, and an eye doctor can diagnose the condition after asking about your eye health history and performing tests and exams where necessary.
Prevention Tips For Dry Eye Syndrome and Ocular Allergies
There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing either of these conditions:
- Maintain good eye hygiene: wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, and keep contact lenses clean.
- Go for regular eye exams, as an eye doctor can detect early signs of both conditions and provide treatment before they worsen.
- During allergy season, avoid spending time outdoors during peak pollen times.
- Also, keep your windows and doors closed to keep allergens out.
- For dry eye symptoms, taking screentime breaks, using a humidifier, and lubricating eye drops can all help.
If your eyes are giving you any trouble this allergy season or whenever, call Issaquah Eyeworks to book your appointment today!