Strategies to overcome dry eye and allergies

We are approaching that time of year when pollen counts rise, and irritated eyes become more commonplace. If you are like many who experience eye symptoms such as itchiness, excessive tearing, dryness, burning or redness, it may be tough to know if you are suffer from dry eye, seasonal allergies or both. How can one tell the difference? Here are a few guidelines:

Dry eye occurs when your eyes produce poor quality tears or insufficient tears, leading to symptoms of burning, grittiness, and blurry vision that can be debilitating. Allergies, on the other hand, usually cause itchy, watery eyes with a stringy mucus discharge. During allergy season, it’s common for allergy symptoms to trigger dry eye symptoms in those with pre-existing dry eye, so if you have both, you could be experiencing all of the above.

“Sometimes you can have itching with dry eye, but itching is much more characteristic of allergies,” says OCB cornea specialist Mina Farahani, MD. “There is a lot of overlap in symptoms and therefore confusion over this, so really the only way to truly know for sure is to have an eye exam.”

“For instance, patients can have a lot of tearing with dry eye, and they ask, ‘How can I have dry eye and have all this tearing?’ Well, tearing is your body’s defense mechanism to overcome dryness, OR to flush out an eye allergen. In those with dry eyes, the components of tears are not normal, but you can still have excessive tearing.”

The good news is you may be able to feed two needs with one deed so to speak.

Artificial tears, for instance, are the first line of treatment for dry eye, but they can also be used to flush allergens out of the eye, said Dr. Farahani.

Allergies cause the tear film to become inflamed, so treating your symptoms with over-the-counter allergy drops, may help calm excessive tearing caused by dry eye. However, it is important to note that oral antihistamines used for systemic allergy symptoms can dry out your eyes and are not very helpful for eye symptoms related to allergies.

Instead, for eye allergies, try eye drops such as Pataday, Alaway, and Lastacraft. These were once only available with a prescription, but are now available over-the-counter.  Dr. Farahani recommends putting eye drops in the fridge, so that they go into the eye cold which is more soothing.

If over-the-counter measures are not helping, eye doctors can prescribe anti-inflammatory drops, for example, steroid drops, if there are no contraindications on a patient’s ocular examination.

Patients with dry eye have had great success with Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy, now available at OCB, for patients with dry eye that is not responsive to other treatments.

If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms or you cannot control your allergy symptoms, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor.