Dry eyes and itchiness are common allergy symptoms. Furthermore, certain allergy medications can increase eye dryness. When the eyes are dry, it can cause watering, redness, and burning.
Dry eyes are a common issue affecting nearly 16 million people living in the United States. There are many potential causes of dry eyes, including irritants and allergens, such as smoke or pollen.
Five primary types of allergic diseases can affect the eyes. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), they include:
This article examines dry eyes from allergies. We also discuss the symptoms and causes of dry eyes and how to treat and prevent them.
Causes of dry eyes can include environmental factors, medications, and underlying health conditions.
According to the American Academy of Opthalmology (AAO), possible causes of dry eyes include:
Potential triggers for dry eyes from allergies or irritants include:
- pet dander
- pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds
- exhaust fumes
- dust mites
- cigarette smoke
When the eyes dry out due to allergens or other causes, a person may experience:
- a feeling that something is sticking in the eye
- redness inside or around the eyes
- watery discharge from the eyes
- a burning sensation
The National Eye Institute adds that a person may experience blurry vision or sensitivity to light.
Eye allergy symptoms vary based on the type of allergy that is causing the issue. Some people may also experience symptoms associated with seasonal allergies, such as a runny nose or sore throat.
Perennial or seasonal allergic conjunctivitis
If environmental allergies are causing dry eyes, a person may experience several eye symptoms, such as:
- watery discharge
Vernal and atopic keratoconjunctivitis
Vernal keratoconjunctivitis and atopic keratoconjunctivitis are more severe types of eye allergies. These mostly affect males with eczema or asthma.
Although these two conditions have many similarities, atopic keratoconjunctivitis affects older males with a history of atopic dermatitis or eczema.
Symptoms typically occur year-round but can worsen during different parts of the year. Symptoms include:
- feeling as if something is in the eye
- light sensitivity
- severe discharge or mucus around the eyes
Contact allergic and giant papillary conjunctivitis
Contact allergic conjunctivitis occurs when the eye comes into direct contact with a foreign object, such as a contact lens.
Symptoms of contact allergic conjunctivitis can include:
- discomfort or pain from wearing contact lenses
- mucus discharge
Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a more severe form of contact allergic conjunctivitis.
Symptoms of giant papillary conjunctivitis include those above, but a person may also experience:
- the feeling of something sticking in the eye
- blurry vision
A person can take steps at home to help manage and treat dry eyes. This involves a combination of controlling their environment and using over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications.
The ACAAI recommends reducing allergic triggers in the environment by:
- wearing glasses instead of contacts
- washing hands after handling a pet
- using a dehumidifier to control mold in the house
- staying inside as much as possible during times of high pollen and closing windows
- wearing sunglasses or glasses outside to help prevent pollen from getting into the eye
- using mite-proof bedding and keeping living areas clean
- washing the face after exposure to allergens
In addition to limiting exposure to allergens, people can talk with their doctor about OTC and prescription medications for dry eyes. Some potential options include:
Since there are many potential causes of dry eye, a person should contact a doctor if they have persistent dry eyes or their symptoms do not get any better. A doctor can check for other possible causes of the dryness and make a diagnosis.
A doctor will often ask about symptoms and examine the affected eye. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), a doctor will likely check:
- how the eye appears externally, including the structure of the lid and how a person is blinking
- how the eyelids and cornea appear under a bright light and magnification
- how much tear volume a person is producing
- the quality of a person’s tears
If a doctor suspects allergies, they may recommend an allergy test.
Irritants, such as pollen, smoke, or pet dander, an underlying medical condition, or a reaction to a medication may cause dry eyes.
Dry eye typically results in red, irritated, and itchy eyes. Taking OTC medications and steps to avoid exposure to an allergen can help.
A person should talk with their doctor if they are unsuccessful in controlling their dry eyes.
When do dry eyes need allergy drops?
Although seasonal allergies can cause dry eyes, a person will typically also experience other symptoms such as itchiness, watery discharge, or swelling of the eyelids. In this case, the cause is most likely allergy, and a person may benefit from allergy eye drops.
Can dust cause dry eyes?
Dust is a common allergen that can irritate the eyes and contribute to eye dryness. Dust can also coat the eye and interfere with the ability of tear ducts to lubricate the eye.
Which antihistamine does not cause dry eyes?
Generally, oral medications are the types of antihistamines more likely to make dry eye worse because they reduce tear secretion. Eye drops should not cause dryness in the eyes as long as a person uses the minimum amount needed to help relieve symptoms. Prolonged use may cause some dryness.
Can symptoms of allergic dry eyes be due to COVID-19?
Recent research shows that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may lead to small fiber neuropathy on the surface of the eye, which is a condition similar to dry eyes. However, more research is necessary to determine how commonly the virus may be causing such symptoms.
Learn more about dry eyes and COVID-19.