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If you’re experiencing eye discomfort without discharge, you may be wondering whether you have allergies or dry eye syndrome.

While these two conditions share some similarities in symptoms, eye allergies have different underlying causes from dry eye. However, it’s also possible for eye allergies to lead to dry eye syndrome.

Read on to learn about the differences and similarities between eye allergy and dry eye symptoms so you can figure out the best treatment approach.

SymptomEye allergiesDry eye
itchinessx
feeling like something is “caught” in your eyex
rednessxx
watery eyesx
burningxx
eyelid swellingx
under-eye circlesx
sensitivity to lightxx
blurry visionx
tired eyesx

Allergy symptoms

Eye allergies are also known as allergic conjunctivitis. Unlike bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, it isn’t contagious. The most notable symptom that sets eye allergies apart from other eye issues is itchiness.

The itchiness may be so severe that you accidentally create tears and redness from rubbing your eyes. If your eyes aren’t itchy, then your symptoms may be attributed to another eye condition.

The skin around and underneath your eyes may be puffy. Some people also have dark under-eye circles called allergic shiners. You may even experience sensitivity to light.

Additionally, your eyes may be watery, with tears are constantly welling up. Due to discomfort, you may be inclined to rub the tears out of your eyes, which can make redness even worse. They may also burn.

Dry eye symptoms

As the name suggests, dry eye causes extreme dryness that can create a burning sensation. Your eyes dry out because they don’t have enough tears to keep them lubricated.

Like eye allergies, dry eye can cause redness and burning. However, a lack of tears doesn’t cause the itchiness and swelling that allergies can.

If left untreated, dry eye can cause vision problems. These include sensitivity to light and blurry vision. Permanent eye damage can occur in the most severe cases.

The treatment for dry eye is going to depend on what’s causing it.

Eye allergies

Eye allergies are caused by contact with substances you’re allergic to. Your body releases histamine to fight these usually harmless substances, which then lead to allergic reactions.

Causes

For many people, eye allergies are seasonal. If you experience more eye allergy symptoms in the spring and fall, then you may be allergic to tree pollen or ragweed pollen, respectively.

Depending on your allergies, you may experience symptoms year-round. Other possible allergens that may aggravate your eyes include pet dander, dust mites, mold, smoke, and perfumes or fragrances.

You may be at an increased risk of eye allergy symptoms if you have nasal allergies or hay fever (allergic rhinitis).

Treatment and prevention

The best way to prevent eye allergies is to prevent your exposure to substances you’re allergic to. However, this isn’t always possible.

Taking an oral antihistamine can help prevent eye allergies. If you need instant relief, consider using eye drops. The best eye drops for allergies should be those that are free of preservatives.

Consider the following eye allergy products:

Artificial tear eye drops can also help alleviate allergies by rinsing allergens out of your eyes. These can be especially helpful to use during allergy season, when you may need to use them multiple times a day.

Dry eye

It’s estimated that at least 5 million people in the United States have dry eye. This condition develops when your eyes don’t produce enough tears, or if the tears your eyes do produce dry up quicker than normal.

Causes

Dry eye syndrome is often misdiagnosed as an eye allergy, especially if you’re trying to diagnose yourself at home.

Some cases may be related to underlying health conditions, such as thyroid disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Other possible causes of dry eye include:

Dry eye may be brought on by excessive screen time, whether it’s related to your job on the computer, watching television, or using your smartphone.

In some cases, cutting down on time spent in front of the screen may help alleviate dry eye symptoms.

While an eye allergy and dry eye are two separate conditions, clinical studies have shown that it’s possible for chronic allergy symptoms in the eyes to lead to dry eye disease. Antihistamines may also dry out your eyes.

Treatment

Unfortunately, using eye drops designed for allergies can actually make an undiagnosed dry eye worse. It’s important to keep track of your symptoms so you can get a more accurate diagnosis from your doctor.

As with treatment for eye allergies, look for eye drops that are preservative-free. Artificial tears can help lubricate your eyes. Prescription drops may be required in more severe cases.

Check out the following highly rated eye drop products for dry eye relief:

Contact lenses

If you wear contacts, you may be more susceptible to dry eye because of lenses that dry out quickly. Ask your eye doctor for prescription lenses that are more resistant to dryness.

Allergy season may also cause issues if you wear contacts as small allergens may become trapped behind your lenses.

In the case of severe eye allergies, you may consider wearing glasses until your symptoms start to resolve.

Healthline

Both eye allergies and dry eye are common ocular ailments, but these aren’t the only medical concerns that can affect your eyes.

See your doctor right away if you experience the following symptoms. They could indicate the presence of another eye issue caused by illness or injury.

  • pus or yellowish discharge coming out of your eye, or crusty buildup in the eye (which is worse upon waking up), which may be signs of an infection associated with bacterial conjunctivitis
  • a red bump near the eye or on the eyelid, which could possibly be a bug bite
  • cuts or tears on your eyelid, or blood on the white part of your eye
  • trouble seeing or blinking in one or both of your eyes
  • a feeling like something is stuck in your eye despite irrigation with water, tears, or attempts to blink it out
  • chronic pain in one or both eyes
  • any changes to your pupil color, size, or shape

Note: Never rub your eye if you feel like there’s an object in it, as this can lead to scratches and injuries.

Dry eye and eye allergies can lead to uncomfortable symptoms that interfere with your daily activities, so it’s important to see a doctor and get the right diagnosis.

It’s also possible to develop dry eye as a result of allergies. Talk to your doctor if your eyes don’t improve after several days of treatment.