With spring around the corner, it’s time to prepare for blue skies, warm weather, and, of course, pollen. If you’re one of the millions of Americans with allergies, you already know they go beyond sneezing, itching, and running noses. Allergies, particularly eye allergies, can cause dry eyes as well as other eye symptoms.
However, these conditions aren’t 1 to 1. Not every allergic reaction will cause dry eyes, and your dry eyes aren’t necessarily caused by allergies. In fact, dry eyes can be caused by various factors, from mild to severe. Having an optometrist examine your dry eyes and uncover the root cause is vital to protecting your vision.
How Allergies Affect Your Eyes
Generally speaking, an allergy is your immune system overreacting to a normally harmless substance. This “substance” is then referred to as an allergen, and your reaction to these allergens can come in a variety of different shapes. Allergens that typically cause eye allergies are divided into three different types:
- Indoor allergens: Pet dander, mold, dust mites, etc.
- Outdoor allergens: Pollens
- Irritants: Perfume, smoke, diesel exhaust, etc.
When these allergens come in contact with your eyes, they release a chemical called histamine, which causes most of the inflammation that results in eye allergy symptoms. This inflammation might cause your eyelids to swell, blocking the glands responsible for producing healthy tears. As a result, you may also hear eye allergies referred to as allergic conjunctivitis.
In addition to dry eyes, symptoms of eye allergies can include:
- Itchy eyes
- Burning or irritation
- Watery eyes
- Eyelid swelling
- Light sensitivity
These symptoms could cause someone to scratch their eyes, worsening dry eye symptoms and potentially damaging their cornea, the clear front dome of your eye.
What is Dry Eye?
Dry eyes affect millions of Americans every year and occur in one of two ways:
- Aqueous deficiency dry eye is when your eyes don’t produce enough tears.
- Evaporative dry eye is when your body produces a deficient tear film lipid layer, leading to increased tear evaporation.
As stated above, tears are more than simply water. Three layers of proteins, water, and nutrients make up your tear film. The glands above your eyes work together to form this tear film that protects your eyes from drying out and foreign objects. If something disrupts these glands, such as allergies causing them to swell, it can result in dry eyes.
Dry eyes can also be worsened by dry environments, smoke, wind, or simply not blinking enough.
Some symptoms that may indicate you have dry eyes include:
- Burning, irritated, or scratchy eyes
- The feeling of having something stuck in your eye
- Light sensitivity
- Stringy mucus
- Watering (your eyes may try to overproduce tears to attempt to correct the dryness)
Dry eyes can be caused by more than just allergies. It could result from medical conditions such as Sjögren’s syndrome or meibomian gland dysfunction. If left untreated, dry eye symptoms can progress into severe conditions such as infections or corneal scarring.
Have an optometrist assess your eye health with a comprehensive eye exam and diagnose the proper condition to ensure you receive the correct treatment.
Antihistamines & Dry Eyes
The link between allergies and dry eyes is not always direct. For example, since allergies cause your cells to release histamines, many times, people will combat that with antihistamine medication. Antihistamines can help with symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes—but they can also reduce tear production.
Some people may not notice this effect, but if you’re someone with undiagnosed dry eye disease, treating your allergies this way could result in more irritation than expected. In this case, you may need artificial tears to increase eye moisture or ask your doctor for an alternative medication.
Treating Dry Eyes from Allergies
If you’re dealing with dry eyes from allergies, you’ll want to focus on relieving dry eye symptoms until your allergies resolve. Try some of these at-home methods:
- Use moisturizing eye drops, sometimes called artificial tears
- Use a warm compress to improve oil gland secretion
- Remember to blink regularly while working on a screen
- Add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, or take supplements
While these may help you find relief, if allergies are the leading cause behind your dry eyes, one of the best things you can do is to avoid allergens. This will, of course, depend on your allergens, but some attention and care can go a long way in limiting your exposure.
For outdoor allergens, try the following:
- Stay indoors when pollen counts peak, usually mid-morning and early evening.
- Avoid window-mounted fans that can pull in pollens and molds.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses outdoors to protect your eyes.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes.
For indoor allergens, try the following:
- Use “mite-proof” pillow covers and sheets. Dust mites are most common in the bedroom, so keep your bedding clean.
- Keep windows closed
- Keep the humidity in your home low to prevent mold growth. However, remember that low humidity can also cause dry eyes, so you should balance this with your needs.
- Wash your hands after petting animals and wash your clothes after visiting friends with pets.
Protecting Your Family’s Eyes
If you or your family is experiencing dry eyes, getting a proper diagnosis is vital. While allergies can cause dry eyes, they’re not the only cause. Getting an accurate diagnosis will ensure that you receive the appropriate treatment.
If your allergies fade, but your dry eyes remain, it could be a sign of something more serious. Our Family Vision Care team wants you to be educated about what’s affecting your vision.
If you’re dealing with dry eye symptoms and you don’t know what’s causing them, book an eye exam today so we can help you keep your eyes healthy and comfortable.