Spring is a delightful time in the Virginia Beach area, full of sunshine, warmth, and local strawberries. Unfortunately, the blooms and blossoms of spring can trigger allergies that cause eye irritation, and the seasonal changes can also provoke a flare-up of dry eye symptoms. If you find yourself with itchy, watery eyes you may be wondering what is causing your discomfort, and how to treat it. The first step is to distinguish if your symptoms are caused by dry eye syndrome or ocular (eye) allergies. Dry eye syndrome and ocular allergies are both very common eye conditions. While they have similarities and it is possible to suffer from both, there are differences between the two. Dry eye syndrome and ocular allergies also require different types of treatments.
Symptoms of Ocular Allergies
Allergies that affect your eyes are called ocular allergies or allergic conjunctivitis. Ocular allergies occur when something you are allergic to triggers your immune system. Some common allergens are year-round, such as dust and pet dander, but many people find themselves affected seasonally by pollen and plant spores that flourish in the spring. Ocular allergy symptoms include:
- Itchy eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Eye stinging or burning
- Sensitivity to light
Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome is a chronic condition, but many people may be affected without realizing the cause of their symptoms. Dry eye syndrome is typically the result of inadequate tear production. Spring can exacerbate dry eye syndrome because seasonal changes, fans and air conditioning, and certain medications such as antihistamines can cause dry eye symptoms to develop.
Dry eye symptoms include:
- A gritty sensation as if something is in your eye
- Stringy discharge from the eyes
- Blurry vision
- Excessive tearing or watering (this is the eye’s way of overcompensating for dryness)
The experts at Virginia Eye Consultants are highly experienced in diagnosing and treating dry eye syndrome, and we are certified by TearLab as an Accredited Dry Eye Center.
How Do I Tell the Difference?
While there are some overlapping symptoms, such as redness and irritation, there are clues that can help determine if your symptoms are caused by dry eye syndrome or allergies. If itchiness is a predominant symptom, and if it is accompanied by sneezing or a runny nose, then you may be suffering from seasonal allergies. If your symptoms don’t seem to be connected to any likely allergens or other symptoms, then you may need to seek treatment for dry eye.
Treatment Options for Ocular Allergies or Dry Eye Syndrome
A proper diagnosis by an experienced eye doctor is recommended before pursuing any treatment plan because the remedies for dry eye syndrome and ocular allergies are quite different. Treatment for ocular allergies typically includes antihistamines, specialized eye drops, and lifestyle changes. Treatment for dry eye symptoms can range from first line remedies such as eye drops and blinking exercises to more advanced treatments that address the primary cause of dry eye – meibomian gland dysfunction.
While there are several over-the-counter options to alleviate symptoms of dry eyes and ocular allergies, your eye doctor may be able to prescribe medications that are more effective, and possibly more affordable. Additionally, chronic dry eye sufferers may be candidates for in-office procedures such as LipiFlow® or TrueTear™, which can provide long-lasting relief from dry eye symptoms.
Contact Us for Diagnosis and Treatment of Allergies or Dry Eye
Annual eye exams are critical to maintaining vision health. If you are not already in the habit of having regular exams, May is a great time to start because it is Healthy Vision Month! A skilled optometrist or ophthalmologist can properly diagnose and treat dry eyes or ocular allergies during a comprehensive eye exam, as well as address any vision issues and screen for other eye conditions that can affect vision and eye health. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.