Seasonal Allergies or Dry Eye Disease? Which Are You Suffering From?

 In Eye Care

Do you suffer from dry, itchy, red eyes? If so, you are not alone. During the spring and summer, countless Americans experience either seasonal allergies or dry eye disease. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference; however, the two conditions interlink.

Seasonal allergies result in similar symptoms to chronic dry eye disease. Pollen allergies cause discomfort during the spring. It just so happens that dry eye disease also peaks during the spring.

Pollen and other seasonal particles may trigger dry eye disease or make existing symptoms even worse. In some cases, a person might suffer from both seasonal allergies and dry eye disease.

What Causes Dry Eye Disease?

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD) is the number one cause of dry eye syndrome. It accounts for 86% of people who suffer from dry eye disease.

MGD occurs due to blockage of the Meibomian gland in the eyelids. As a result, it can not produce the oils that lubricate the eyes. Unfortunately, this condition leads to uncomfortable symptoms including eye irritation, redness, a scratchy sensation, and watery eyes. Environmental irritants further irritate the eyes and amplify the symptoms.

How Seasonal Allergies Compound Dry Eye Disease

The effects of dry eye compound as we spend more time outside during spring and summer. Exposure to sunlight, chlorine, sunscreen, sweat, or dust may further irritate the eyes.

A 2015 ophthalmology study from the University of Miami uncovered a connection between reported dry eye symptoms and seasonal allergies. In fact, nearly 21% of dry eye disease diagnosis happen in April. In contrast, the lowest incidence of dry eye symptoms occurs in the summer after allergy season ends.

According to researchers, dry eye disease costs the U.S. healthcare system nearly $4 billion a year. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men suffer from dry eye.

Traditionally eye doctors viewed seasonal allergies and dry eye disease as separate conditions with common symptoms. The University of Miami study indicates a relationship between both conditions. One clinical application may be allergy prevention treatment for patients with dry eye disease.

Which is it – Seasonal Allergies or Dry Eye Disease?

Despite the connection between seasonal allergies and dry eye disease, a correct diagnosis is essential. Visit your eye care professional to determine which condition causes your discomfort.

In general, you experience issues from seasonal allergies during the spring and early summer. The root cause is your body’s response to pollen and other seasonal allergens. Symptoms include a burning and itchy sensation.

However, these symptoms leave later in the season after pollination finishes. Your eye symptoms may also come with nasal congestion and other allergy symptoms. Your optometrist may suggest allergy medication that won’t further dry out your eyes.

Dry Eye Symptoms Include:

  • The sensation of something “gritty” in the eye
  • Alternating between excessive watering and a dry sensation
  • Burning or stinging feeling
  • Blurred vision
  • A stringy discharge from the eye
  • Redness

On the other hand, if you suffer from dry eye disease, you may experience discomfort at various times throughout the year. In addition to spring, people with dry eye disease often feel increased discomfort during dry months such as during the winter.

Seasonal Allergy Symptoms Include:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Burning or stinging eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • A runny nose, nasal congestion and a watery discharge from the eyes
  • Light sensitivity

Since symptoms overlap, your key to relief is a correct diagnosis. After a thorough eye exam, your optometrist may determine whether your eye concerns result from seasonal allergies or dry eye disease. Since there are multiple causes for dry eye disease, see an experienced eye doctor.

Tips For Relief From Both Seasonal Allergies and Dry Eye Disease

If you suffer from either condition, you can take action to avoid stimulus that makes it worse. In addition to pollen, common culprits include wind, dry air, smoke and other eye irritants. Try these tips for happier eyes.

Protect Your Eyes

Consider wearing protective eye-wear while outside. Safety goggles may protect your eyes from debris while doing yard work. Dust and particles also irritate the eyes so wear safety goggles while dusting or working in a wood-shop.

Wear sunglasses while outside to help shield your eyes from UV rays and wind. Be sure to get a pair that offers broad-spectrum sun protection.

Many patients find relief with artificial tears or eye drops. Follow your optometrist’s guidelines whether you use prescription or over the counter eye drops.

Make Your Home Eye-Friendly

Using a humidifier in your home during dry months may help relieve dry eye symptoms while at home. Also be sure to avoid sitting with a fan pointing towards your face or near air conditioning drafts.

Dust irritates the lungs, nose, and eyes. Keep your home free of dust to cut down on exposure to irritants.

Whenever possible, stay inside on days with a high pollen count.

Practice an Eye-Friendly Lifestyle

Take frequent breaks from staring at computers, reading, or crafts. Sometimes when focused, we forget to blink. Blink frequently and also practice looking into the distance.

Consider eating foods rich in fatty acids such as fish, walnuts, and olive oil. Some people find an omega three fatty acid supplement like fish oil seems to relieve dry eye symptoms.

Some people with dry eye disease (or allergies) find warm compresses soothing. Be sure to discuss any possible home remedies with your eye care professional just to make sure they don’t make your condition worse.

Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. In addition to being bad for your health, smoke is a major eye irritant especially for people with dry eyes. Also, try to avoid smoke from fireplaces, bonfires or any other source.

Seek Routine and Preventative Eye Care

Most importantly, stay current on your annual eye examinations.  Discuss any changes in vision and eye irritation with your eye doctor. Diagnosis is always the first step to treatment.

Contact the eye care professionals at Piedmont EyeCare to schedule your exam before seasonal allergies take hold.

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