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What To Do About Dry Eyes During Allergy Season

Dry, itchy, and irritated eyes are common allergy symptoms, but they have other causes as well. When your eyes don’t make enough tears or your tears dry too quickly due to a lack of lipids in the fluid, it can cause fatigue, stinging sensations, redness, blurred vision, and light sensitivity.

The lacrimal gland, which is above the eye, produces tears. Tears coat the surface of the eye, protecting it and keeping it moist. Excess tears drain into the lacrimal duct in the lower corner of your eye.

Dry eye syndrome affects between 16 and 24 million people in the United States.1,2 Older age, having an autoimmune condition, female sex, a lack of vitamin A, decreased blinking, and wearing contact lenses can increase your risk of dry eyes.3

Can Allergies Cause Dry Eyes?

Allergic conjunctivitis causes redness, itching, and dryness due to a sensitivity to allergens in the air. Eye allergies develop when your immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to harmless substances in the air. These allergens trigger mast cells in your immune system to produce histamine and other chemicals.

Seasonal or perennial allergic conjunctivitis, vernal keratoconjunctivitis, atopic keratoconjunctivitis, contact allergic conjunctivitis, and giant papillary conjunctivitis are the most common types of eye allergies.

Unlike other causes of conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. It typically has a seasonal pattern, depending on what you are allergic to. Many people with allergic conjunctivitis have other allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose, facial itchiness, and a dry cough.

Seasonal allergens that may be causing your dry eye symptoms include:

  • Mold spores
  • Pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander

Cigarette smoke, perfume, cleaning chemicals, diesel exhaust, and other irritants can worsen your dry eye symptoms.

Other Causes of Dry Eyes

While allergies commonly cause dry eyes, there are other potential causes. These conditions are commonly misdiagnosed as pink eye because they can cause redness, irritation, and tearing.

Common causes of dry eye include:

  • Foreign bodies in the eye
  • Exposure to pollution
  • Medication use, especially antihistamines, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications
  • Health conditions such as autoimmune disorders
  • Laser eye surgery
  • Smoky or dry environments
  • Prolonged computer use
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Decreased blinking
  • Vitamin A deficiency

To determine whether your dry eyes are due to allergic conjunctivitis or another condition, make an online appointment to talk with a telemedicine doctor and receive an online diagnosis. After receiving your diagnosis, your doctor will provide an individualized care plan to relieve your dry eye symptoms.  

Close-up of a pink eye

Symptoms of Allergic Conjunctivitis

Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis can vary but commonly include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Burning
  • Feeling like there is dirt or grit in your eyes
  • Itchiness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Redness
  • Stinging
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Watery eyes

How To Treat Dry Eyes from Allergies

Dry eyes from allergies or other causes can affect your physical and psychological health and reduce your quality of life. Treating dry eyes from allergies can improve your vision and reduce your symptoms.4

Try To Limit Exposure to Allergens

Limit your exposure to inside and outside allergens by taking the following steps to allergy-proof your home:

  • Add HEPA filters to vacuums and furnaces to reduce allergens.
  • Avoid exposure to foods, chemicals, perfumes, tobacco, and air pollution.
  • Avoid using window fans that can draw outdoor allergens into the home.
  • Control pet allergens with frequent bathing, brushing, and grooming.
  • Dustproof your home by removing unnecessary carpet, drapes, bedding, and upholstered furniture.
  • Encase mattresses and pillows in a zipped plastic, dust-mite-proof encasing.
  • Keep your hands away from your face and eyes.
  • Leave your shoes and coats in a mudroom to avoid tracking allergens throughout your home.
  • Stay indoors with your windows closed during high-allergen times. Many weather apps report common allergens and their levels in your area.
  • Wash bedding weekly in hot water.
  • Wash your hands after petting or touching animals.
  • Wear glasses or sunglasses, especially outside, to limit contact with wind-blown eye allergens.
A family and pet with allergy symptoms

Use Eye Drops

Prescription and over-the-counter eye drops can reduce irritation, remove allergens, and cleanse an irritated eye. Some prescription eye drops can prevent eye allergy symptoms. Talk to a doctor on the TelegraMD platform about your dry eye symptoms. If appropriate, your doctor can transmit an online prescription to your local pharmacy.

Take Oral Antihistamines

Oral antihistamines reduce histamine, a chemical that causes redness, swelling, tearing, and itchiness. Oral histamines are commonly used to treat allergies but they can worsen dry eye symptoms.

Practice Good Eye Hygiene

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 99% of contact users surveyed report not following at least one of the recommended contact lens hygiene behaviors and, therefore, increasing their risk of pink eye.5

When wearing contact lenses, practice these steps to reduce irritation and allergen accumulation on your contacts:

  • Add fresh disinfecting solution to your case before storing your contacts overnight.
  • Add fresh solution each day.
  • Do not top off your disinfecting solution in your contact cases.
  • Keep your contact case clean and dry between uses.
  • Replace your storage case every three to six months.
  • Wash your hands before putting contacts in your eyes or removing them.

Allergens can become trapped between your eyes and contacts, increasing your risk of eye irritation and dryness.

Consider Allergy Shots

If your allergy symptoms are severe and eye drops, allergy medications, and environmental changes do not improve your symptoms, consider allergy shots.

Your doctor may suggest allergy shots after allergy testing to determine which allergens your immune system is sensitive to. This involves injecting a gradually increasing dose of an allergen as your immune system adjusts to it.

Allergy shots can be highly effective at reducing your allergy and asthma symptoms. Typically, allergy shots are given weekly until you reach a maintenance dose. After that, your injection schedule may be spaced out more.

Allergy shots require time and commitment to receive the injection and wait in the office for the required 15 to 20 minutes in case of a reaction. Allergy shots can be expensive, especially if you do not have insurance coverage.

However, if you commit to taking allergy shots, you may see a significant improvement in your symptoms. Talk to your TelegraMD doctor to learn more about allergy shots and whether you would be a suitable candidate for them.

A woman talking to a telehealth doctor

When To See a Doctor

Dry eye causes can vary, so getting an accurate diagnosis and discussing your treatment options is important. Whether you have decreased tear production due to a health issue or as a result of aging, poor tear quality, or tears that evaporate too quickly, an online doctor can help diagnose and treat your condition. Telehealth is a cost-effective way to see a doctor about your dry eye and other allergy symptoms.

Warning signs and symptoms that suggest that something other than allergies may be contributing to your symptoms include:6

  • Bloody nose
  • Difficulty or inability to smell
  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Nasal blockage in one nostril
  • Nasal discharge from one nostril
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain
  • Blisters or vesicles around the eye

Make an online appointment to get a prescription online if over-the-counter allergy medications are not helping your symptoms or you are concerned that something other than allergies is causing your dry eyes.

Disclaimer

While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.

References

  1. Reza D, Bradley JL, Guerin A, et al. Estimated prevalence and incidence of dry eye disease based on coding analysis of a large, all-age United States healthcare system. American Journal of Ophthalmology. 2019;202:47-54. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2019.01.026
  2. Farrand KF, Fridman M, Stillman IÖ, Schaumberg DA. Prevalence of diagnosed dry eye disease in the United States among adults aged 18 years and older. American Journal of Ophthalmology. 2017;182:90-98. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2017.06.033
  1. National Eye Institute. Dry Eye. (n.d.). NIH.Gov. Retrieved September 13, 2023, from https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/dry-eye
  2. Guo OD LW, Akpek E. The negative effects of dry eye disease on quality of life and visual function. Turk J Med Sci. 2020 Nov 3;50(SI-2):1611-1615. doi: 10.3906/sag-2002-143. PMID: 32283910; PMCID: PMC7672346.
  3. Cope JR, Collier SA, Nethercut H, Jones JM, Yates K, Yoder JS. Risk Behaviors for contact lens–related eye infections among adults and adolescents — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66(32):841-5.
  4. Asher MI, Montefort S, Björkstén B, Lai CK, Strachan DP, Weiland SK, Williams H; ISAAC Phase Three Study Group. Worldwide time trends in the prevalence of symptoms of asthma, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in childhood: ISAAC Phases One and Three repeat multicountry cross-sectional surveys. Lancet. 2006 Aug 26;368(9537):733-43. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)69283-0. Erratum in: Lancet. 2007 Sep 29;370(9593):1128. PMID: 16935684.

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