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Can Allergies Cause Dry Eyes?

Both dry eyes and allergies can be extremely uncomfortable and affect many people. Both of these conditions—2 of the most common causes of eye discomfort—share many similar symptoms. But can allergies actually cause dry eyes? What’s the connection between these 2 conditions?

Ocular allergies (allergic conjunctivitis) and dry eye disease share many symptoms, but they are 2 separate conditions. Both can be linked to inflammation and disruptions to your tear film, and it’s possible to experience both conditions simultaneously, making it essential to receive a proper diagnosis from an eye care professional.

What Is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye, also known as dry eye disease or keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a common condition often caused by a problem with your eye’s tear production. When healthy, your eye produces tears that are dispersed every time you blink. These tears, made of 3 layers (oil, mucin, and water,) help lubricate, hydrate, and protect the eye.

However, if a problem develops with the quality of your tears—or your eye simply doesn’t produce enough—it can lead to the surface of your eye becoming irritated and dry. This condition, called dry eye, often involves symptoms like:

  • Dryness, burning, or grittiness
  • Redness
  • Irritation and discomfort
  • Blurry vision
  • Watery eyes

This condition can be made worse by several factors, including a particularly dry or dusty environment, certain medications, medical conditions like diabetes or autoimmune conditions, and even allergies.

Is There a Connection Between Allergies & Dry Eye?

Your tear film is essential for maintaining the health of your eyes and their surface, but this tear film can be affected by both dry eye disease and allergic reactions. Allergic reactions are caused by the immune system reacting to a specific trigger, causing your body to overreact in its response.

This can lead to a disruption of the tear film, which can lead to dryness and irritation. These symptoms can be made worse when exposed to common allergens like dust, pollen, and even pet dander.

One specific condition that links allergies and dry eyes is called allergic conjunctivitis—the inflammation of a membrane in your eye and eyelid. This condition can be triggered by allergens and directly disrupt your tear composition, leading to symptoms similar to that of dry eye disease.

What Is Allergic Conjunctivitis?

Allergic conjunctivitis is a common eye condition caused by an allergic response to allergens coming in contact with your eyes. It can be divided into 2 categories:

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is typically triggered by airborne allergens at specific times in the year (like when hay is cut or pollen begins spreading through the air).

Perennial allergic conjunctivitis can occur year-round due to exposure to indoor allergens like dust, dander, and mold.

Both of these categories often include redness, discomfort, watery eyes, and a burning or gritty sensation in the eyes. These allergies can affect both your eyes and sinuses—the air-filled cavities in your skull that are near your tear ducts.

This makes it essential to treat any sinus issues you may have, as they can lead to further inflammation and feelings of dry eye.

Can You Have Dry Eyes & Allergic Conjunctivitis?

While both of these conditions have similar symptoms, they are 2 distinct conditions with different causes and underlying effects. Dry eye disease is often caused due to a disruption to the tear film, while allergic conjunctivitis is often caused by external allergens in the environment near you. This means it’s possible to experience both conditions simultaneously.

When someone experiences both of these conditions at the same time, it can become complicated to properly manage symptoms. Targeted treatment for each condition can be contradictory, making it essential to receive an eye exam for a proper diagnosis of what’s causing your eye irritation.

By working closely with an optometrist, you can learn the exact condition you’re experiencing and receive their professional recommendation regarding treatment. Fortunately, there are several treatment options available for allergic conjunctivitis and dry eye therapy.

How to Treat Dry Eyes & Allergies

When treating an optical condition causing irritation and dry eyes, your first step should be to visit an eye care professional. We can perform a comprehensive eye exam and determine which condition may be causing your dry eyes before recommending an appropriate treatment plan for you.

At One EyeCare, we know how uncomfortable dry eyes and allergies can be, and our team of experienced professionals is here to help. Schedule a consultation today to take advantage of our dry eye expertise and get a customized treatment recommendation!