Can Allergies Cause Dry Eyes? Eye Doctor Explains

Can allergies cause dry eyes? Dry eyes is a common issue. Allergies also impact many patients everyday. But, can having bad eye allergies actually cause dry eye? Let’s take a look.

Can Allergies Cause Dry Eye?

In some cases, yes, allergies can cause a patient to have an eye that feels very dry. Allergic conjunctivitis in the eye can cause the surface of the eye to be irregular which can cause dryness. it can also make existing dryness worse. However, it is important to note that dry eye can be multifactorial, which means there are many different reasons a patient can have dry eye. 

So, dry eye disease that is cause primarily from meibomian gland dysfunction may be related to inflammation of the eyelid from allergies, or it may simply be coincidental that the two both exist in the same patient. 

Allergic Conjunctivitis

One reason allergies can cause dry eyes is due to a condition called allergic conjunctivitis, which is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin, transparent layer covering the white part of the eye. 

Allergic conjunctivitis results from the body’s response to allergens, leading to itching, redness, and irritation. In some cases, this reaction can cause the eyes to produce mucus, which can further aggravate the feeling of dryness and discomfort.

The surface of an eye with allergies can be irregular. This can make the tear film irregular and it may not coat the eye properly. This can cause dry eye or make existing dry eye worse.

Allergy Medications

In addition to the direct impact of allergens on the eyes, some allergy medications can also contribute to dry eyes. Some allergy medications can reduce the production of tears, which can lead to increased dryness, pain, and sensitivity to light. In other cases, allergy eye drops can have preservatives in them. These preservatives can make eye dryness worse.

How Are Dry Eye And Seasonal Allergies Similar?

Dry eye and seasonal allergies can often overlap in some ways. Let’s dive in.

Overlapping Symptoms

Dry eyes and seasonal allergies can both eye conditions that can cause frustrating symptoms. Some of these include watery eyes, irritated eyes, and feeling like there is something stuck in the eye. 

This is because in dry eyes there is not enough tears and this creates an irregular surface and a poor tear film. In allergies, the patient’s conjunctiva can become inflammed as well. The conjunctiva may develop something called papillae or follices. These are irregular bumps on the surface of the conjunctiva. This can also cause eye irritation as the surface of the eye in this situation is also not smooth.

Another common symptom between dry eyes and ocular allergies is watery eyes. Patients with both of these conditions may also complain of sore eyes.

Some Similar Treatment Options

In some cases dry eyes and allergies can be treated similarly. For both chronic dry eye and for eye allergy symptoms, an artificial tear may be helpful. However, in cases where either chronic condition is severe, then artificial tears may not be adequate dry eye therapy. At this point it is important to make an attempt to distinguish between the two diseases and determine which one is causing the majority of the symptoms. 

How Are Dry Eyes And Allergies Different?

How can you tell if your symptoms are from dry eye or from allergies? There are also many ways to differentiate eye problems due to allergy season and that due to dryness. Let’s take a look.


The most obvious distinction is timing. If your eyes are irritated after going outside or after being exposed to an allergen then it is likely that your symptoms are from allergies. If symptoms of dryness are consistent or maybe even worse in the morning this could be more related to dry eye.

Different Symptoms

While allergies can cause a feeling of dry eye, many patients with eye allergies complain of itchy eyes. Additionally, many patients with allergies can have itchy eyelids as well. 

Depending on the type of allergy, alongside symptoms of eye allergies, patients may experience other symptoms as well. This may include sneezing, coughing, and an itchy throat. Some patients who are very atopic or sensitive to certain allergens may also have other signs of atopy like eczema. 

If you are a patient with a known history of allergies, then differentiating between dry eye and ocular allergies is important. If you can adequately treat the cause of your allergies, then you will experience less symptoms of dry eye.

How Do Allergies Cause Dry Eye?

There are a few different ways that allergies can cause dry eyes.

Disruption Of Tear Production

When allergens, such as pollen or dust, come into contact with the eyes, it can disrupt the production and drainage of tears. This can lead to dry eyes and even blurry vision. 

Eyelid Inflammation

Additionally, eyelid inflammation from allergies can cause or worsen meibomian gland dysfunction which can further aggravate dry eye. Finally, conjunctival inflammation and irregularity can cause a gritty sensation in the eye and make the eye feel dry. 

Irregular Conjunctival Surface

When you have an allergic reaction in your eyes, it can cause changes to the surface of the conjunctiva. This is a thin layer that covers the surface of the eye. It can develop a papillary reaction which means the surface becomes bumpy. This irregular surface can also make dry eye worse. 

Understanding Allergies

Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to substances called allergens. These allergens can come from various sources, such as pollen, mold, pet dander, dust, or dust mites. When a person with allergies comes in contact with allergens that they are sensitive to, their immune system produces antibodies. This immune response is what causes an allergic reaction.

Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies are common and caused by airborne allergens like pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. These allergies tend to occur during certain times of the year when plants release their pollen into the air. Mold spores, which can also trigger seasonal allergies, are typically more prevalent in damp or humid conditions.

One of the primary environmental triggers that can worsen dry eyes is the presence of wind or heavy winds, which can quickly reduce the moisture in the eyes. Moreover, exposure to smoke, including cigarette smoke, creates a dry environment that irritates the eyes and potentially exacerbates allergy-induced dry eyes.

Pet Dander 

Pet dander is another common allergen and comes from tiny particles of skin, fur, or feathers shed by pets. People who are allergic to pet dander may experience symptoms when in close contact with animals or even from indirect exposure, such as through home furnishings.

Dust And Dust Mites

Dust and dust mites can be found in almost all environments. Dust is a mix of particles, including skin cells, fibers, and other debris. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that feed on organic materials found in dust, and their droppings can trigger allergic reactions.

It is essential to recognize the possible allergens that can lead to dry eyes and understand how to minimize exposure to them. By doing so, individuals can find relief from dry eyes caused by allergies and improve their overall eye health.

Can Allergies Cause Dry Eyes: Treating Both Health Conditions

The best way to treat uncomfortable symptoms from both allergies and dry eye is to treat both the common symptoms of dry eye and to treat the allergies.

Treating Allergies

The first step of treating most allergies is avoidance. You have to determine the root cause of the allergens that are causing havoc on your body’s immune system and causing eye discomfort. Then you should do your best to avoid the most common allergens. 

If this is not possible, then using oral antihistamines can be very helpful. Oral medications like loratidine are available over the counter and can hel you achieve allergy control while doing your daily activities. 

Seeing an allergist can also be very helpful. An allergist can do formal allergy testing on you to figure out the most common causes of your allergies. An expert allergist can help with coming up with a treatment plan and recommending allergy medication.

Treating Dry Eye

Alongside treating your allergies, you should also start dry eye treatment. The first step for most patients is to use over the counter eye drops like artificial tears. You can also treat dry eye syndrome with prescription drops. 

Before this however, your eye doctor will likely recommend trying to make lifestyle changes. These will include avoiding dry environments and avoiding triggers that make your allergic respone worse. 

A comprehensive eye exam by an eye doctor can help patients get a proper diagnosis. It can help to determine if allergies is one of the potential causes of dry eye for you . When visiting an eye doctor, it is remember to discuss any common symptoms of dry eyes that you are experiencing. These include itching, burning, excessive tearing, or redness. 

Poor-quality tears can aggravate dry eye and can be from a common issue known as meibomian gland dysfunction. When meibomian glands are not functioning well, this can cause dry eyes and itchy eyes. This situation can be a little confusing since an allergic response often results in itchiness. An accurate diagnosis is important here, because warm compresses are the treatment for meibomian gland dysfunction as well as other therapies like IPL.

Can Allergies Cause Dry Eyes: Summary

Yes allergies like hay fever can also cause dry eye symptoms. These separate conditions can often exist together. Some similar symptoms of both are red eyes, eye irritation, poor tear film on the eye’s surface, watery eyes, and a burning sensation in the eyes. 

Top tips to help improve quality of life when you have both allergies and dry eyes is to treat both. This can be through making lifestyle changes, avoiding environmental factors, and avoiding allergens that are the cause of your symptoms. Seeing an eye doctor is important to get the correct diagnosis as well as appropriate treatment. This may include over the counter remedies, or even prescription eye drops.

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