Allergies can cause dry, itchy eyes. In some cases, medications to treat allergies can dry out the eyes. When the eyes are dry, it can cause symptoms such as watering, redness, and itchiness.
Five primary types of allergic diseases can affect the eyes. They include:
- perennial or seasonal allergic conjunctivitis
- vernal keratoconjunctivitis
- atopic keratoconjunctivitis
- contact allergic conjunctivitis
- giant papillary conjunctivitis
In this article, we will examine dry eyes from allergies. We will also look at the symptoms and causes of dry eyes and how to treat and prevent them.
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
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 allergy. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), 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.
Symptoms typically occur year-round but can worsen during different parts of the year. Symptoms include:
- feeling like 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
Causes of dry eyes can include environmental factors, medications, and underlying health conditions.
Possible causes of dry eyes include:
- being in a dry environment or heavy wind
- medical conditions, such as thyroid disease or rheumatoid arthritis
- prolonged use of contact lenses
- staring at a computer screen for an extended period
- a reaction to medications, such as antihistamines, antacids, beta-blockers, or anxiety medications
- response to surgery
Potential triggers for dry eyes from allergies or irritants include:
- pet dander
- pollen from trees, grasses or weeds
- diesel exhaust
- dust mites
- cigarette smoke
A person can take steps at home to help manage and treat their dry eyes. This involves a combination of controlling their environment and using over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications.
The ACAAI recommend 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
In addition to limiting exposure to allergens, people can talk to their doctor about OTC and prescription medications for their dry eyes. Some potential options include:
- decongestant eye drops
- artificial tears
- oral antihistamines — though these may make symptoms of dry eye worse
- allergy shots
- prescription eye drops
- non-drowsy prescription antihistamines
A person could also try natural remedies, such as:
- massaging the eyes to stimulate tear production
- using a warm compress on the eyes
Since there are many potential causes of dry eye, a person should talk to their 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, a doctor will likely check:
- how the eye responds to light
- how the mechanics are working
- tear production
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 to their doctor if they are unsuccessful in controlling their dry eyes.