Allergens, or allergic conjunctivitis, affects more than 20% of the American population and can irritate the eyes or their surrounding areas. On the other hand, dry eyes affect tear production and the tear film, which keeps the surface of the eye clean to avoid infection and provide nourishment. Common symptoms between the two include dryness, excessive watering, sensitivity to light, burning sensations and the feeling as though a foreign body is in the eye.
Where they differ is the amount of itchiness experienced. An allergy flare up can be distinguished by intense itching and swelling, two symptoms that are not as common in chronic dry eyes. Common allergens known to cause this kind of irritation to those who are sensitive include certain foods, latex, medications, mold, pets and pollen.
There are several remedies available to help those who suffer from allergic conjunctivitis:
Be aware of the medications you are taking. Prescriptions designed to help treat allergies have been known to dry out the tear film, thus leading to dry eye symptoms.
Artificial tears (eye drops) have been proven to be an effective way to lessen symptoms and provide relief to the affected areas. Tip: Some eye drops contain preservatives that have been linked to causing more irritation over time, so experts suggest requesting preservative-free drops to avoid further complications. Always check with your doctor for the best options available.
Close windows and doors during months of high pollination to prevent allergens from settling into your house.
Use an air purifier to capture any allergens that may have been introduced to your home.
Wash your hands frequently after interaction with pets or animals you have a known allergy to.
Wear sunglasses when outside to prevent allergens from contacting your eyes.
David Litoff, MD, serves as the Chief Medical Officer for ICON Eyecare. Dr. Litoff is a corneal specialist and surgeon specializing in both cataract surgery and refractive surgery. He has been with Kaiser Permanente since 1999 as a corneal specialist and general ophthalmologist.