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Is it Dry Eyes or Allergy?

Is it Dry Eyes or Allergy?
Joel Kestenbaum, OD

Often patients come in complaining that their eyes are dry, either all day or part of the day.  Some complain of itching along with dryness.  How do you know if you have a dry eye due to poor tear production or if you have allergies causing the dry eyes?

dry_eyesItching is a telltale sign of allergy but not all allergies cause itching.  In addition, itching is not the only sign of allergy. Red eyes, red-rimmed eyelids, watery eyes, burning eyes, light sensitivity, and blurry vision are also highly associated with allergy………BUT these signs are also associated with dry eyes.  So how do you know if it is allergy or dry eyes?  Without the help of your eye doctor it is hard to know.  There can be many underlying causes of dry eyes that can mimic allergy or allergy that can mimic dry eyes.  Your eye doctor can perform some specialized testing to assess the quality of the tear film and the quantity of the tears.

So, what are the tears?  The tears are made of 3 parts: water, oil and mucous.  These three components need to be in perfect harmony for the tears to function at their best and keep you both seeing well and physically comfortable.  Different glands in the eyelids secrete the different parts of the tear film.  If one of these glands is not functioning properly, the tear film cannot do its job and you will not be comfortable.

Eyelid disease, bodily disease (like arthritis), certain medications, and environmental sources are among those factors that can cause dry eyes.

Medications, environmental sensitivities, animal dander, and foods are among factors that can cause allergies.

Your eye doctor can diagnose and treat your symptoms based on history, evaluation with a specialized microscope called slit lamp, analyzing the tears with certain dyes and with an instrument called a topographer.

If your eye doctor determines that your symptoms are caused by allergy he/she will prescribe eye drops to make you more comfortable, might prescribe an oral antihistamine, and will certainly recommend that you avoid those things to which you are allergic.  If your symptoms are caused by eyelid disease, you will be given instructions on lid hygiene, will likely be given an eye drop to improve your comfort, and might be recommended vitamin supplements to improve tear production.

The point is that dry eyes and allergy eyes are not a simple problem and there usually is not a simple solution.  Often there are multiple treatments and multiple reasons for your symptoms.

We already have a couple of other blog posts up about eye allergies and how to treat them.  However, if you are not finding what you need in those previous posts or you have tried what was recommended and nothing is working, I would advise making an eye appointment with one of our eye doctors at Optix Family Eyecare Center.  For both routine and problem related care, consider scheduling an appointment.  We look forward to seeing you. 516-931-6330

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