Is It Dry Eye Or Allergies?

Most people have had itchy, watery eyes at some point in their lives. Oftentimes, the culprit is allergic conjunctivitis – this condition is characterized by eye inflammation that occurs as a reaction to allergens, such as pollen or mold spores.

Allergic conjunctivitis is very common and can be especially prevalent in the springtime when there is a lot of pollen in the air. Eyes often become sore, itchy, and inflamed. While uncomfortable, the condition is manageable.

People often confuse allergies with dry eye, an eye condition that occurs when eyes are unable to produce a sufficient amount of tears, or cannot produce tears of adequate quality to keep eyes lubricated.

Symptoms of dry eye can be identical to allergy symptoms, so it can be hard for some people to tell which they have. Luckily, there are differences that doctors can identify to diagnose and treat both. Keep reading to learn the differences between dry eye and allergies!

Allergy Symptoms

The most common and identifiable symptom of allergic conjunctivitis is itchiness. When pollen or other allergens cause a reaction in a patient’s eyes, cells release histamine, a chemical associated with inflammation and itchiness.

Other common symptoms of allergies include having watery and red eyes. This is often a result of rubbing your eyes due to itchiness.

The more you rub your eyes to soothe them, the worse they will likely feel. It can seem like a never-ending cycle, which is why you should never rub your eyes, no matter how itchy they may be.

Dry Eye Symptoms

Dry eye occurs when the eye doesn’t get enough moisture from natural tear production. This can cause the eye to become red and even to water more. The eye may also feel a bit itchy.

The primary symptom of dry eye is a burning sensation accompanied by a “gritty” feeling.

Similar to ocular allergies, this may give you the urge to rub your eyes to try and relieve the gritty sensation in your eye. Rubbing your eyes will only make your eyes more red and irritated.


For a doctor to diagnose you with an allergic reaction or dry eye, they need to know what your main symptoms are. If your main symptom is itchy eyes, you probably have allergic conjunctivitis.

If your eyes feel like they have grit in them, you probably have dry eye. Your eye doctor will be able to run tests to confirm your diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.


You can usually treat allergic conjunctivitis with over-the-counter medication. This comes in the form of antihistamines that can be taken orally or as eye drops.

The course of treatment for dry eye often depends on the severity of your symptoms. To start, your doctor may recommend changing your environment and nutrition. This could include drinking more water, installing a humidifier in your office and/or home, or taking supplements.

Artificial tears can also provide relief for dry eye symptoms, which can generally be used as often as needed to provide symptom relief.

If nothing else helps, you may try punctal plugs that plug your tear ducts. This medical treatment forces tears to stay on the surface of your eye longer instead of draining right away. This can help give your eyes more much-needed moisture and nourishment.

Have questions about how to treat your dry eye or allergy symptoms? Contact the Nielsen Eye Center in greater Boston, MA to schedule an appointment today!

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