There are lots of different conditions that can affect our eyes, many of which are fairly minor, but uncomfortable and inconvenient. Many also share the same symptoms, which can make them particularly tricky to tell apart. Three eye problems that are extremely common, but also share many similarities are dry eye, eye allergies, and eye infections.
Here’s what you need to know about each of these conditions, including how to tell the difference between them.
Many people haven’t heard of dry eyes, yet it is an extremely common condition that will likely affect everyone at some point during their lifetime. Dry eyes occur when the eyes aren’t able to produce enough tears, or the tears that are produced are not the right quality to be effective. Tear film relies on a complex blend of oils, water, and protein. The oils are produced by special glands called meibomian glands. When these glands don’t work effectively, such as when they are clogged by hardened oil deposits, not enough oil can reach the tear film, meaning it isn’t as lubricating as it could be.
There are a variety of factors believed to contribute to the development of dry eyes. People who spend a lot of time in dry, dusty environments, who spend long hours on digital devices, who don’t drink enough water, are over the age of 50, or who have certain medical conditions or take specific medications may be more likely to suffer from the condition.
Unsurprisingly, dry eyes are the main symptom associated with the condition of the same name. Other symptoms include:
A gritty sensation in the eyes
Mucus around the eyes
Sensitivity to light
When someone has dry eyes, all symptoms are restricted to the eyes themselves.
Fortunately, there are a variety of options for treating dry eyes, ranging from lubricating eye drops and medications to surgery, and your eye doctor will help you to find the treatment that is most effective at alleviating your symptoms.
Lots of people suffer from eye allergies too. These occur when the body senses a normally harmless substance as being potentially dangerous and sets off defenses against us. Allergies affect the body in lots of different ways, but many people find that it is their eyes that are affected, especially if the allergen first comes into contact with their body through them. Examples include allergens like mold spores, smoke, or pollen particles.
When the allergen comes into contact with the body, the body releases chemicals called histamines to fight it. The trouble is that histamines also cause a range of symptoms that we associate with allergies.
It’s possible to be allergic to pretty much anything, but some of the most common eye allergies include:
Pollen (tree, grass, and flower)
Although eye allergies cause symptoms that affect the eyes, they can also trigger a range of more general allergy effects, including:
Watery discharge from the eyes
Sensitivity to light
Redness of the eyes
Congestion, like a stuffy head or nose
Coughing or sneezing
The main treatment for eye allergies is antihistamines, which are a form of medication that keeps histamine release under control, thereby reducing the symptoms that you experience. People with very severe allergies may need to explore a treatment option called immunosuppression, which is where the immune system is artificially impaired to prevent it from overreacting.
Eye infections happen when harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi, come into contact with any part of the eye – from the surrounding tissues like the conjunctiva to the eyeball itself. This can happen either directly, or by touching your eyes with unclean hands, such as when you put in or remove a contact lens.
There are many different types of eye infections, and your eye doctor will need to determine the specific variety that you have in order to prescribe the most effective treatment. Some of the most common eye infections include conjunctivitis, viral keratitis, and trachoma.
Depending on the type of eye infection that you are experiencing, you could suffer from a wide range of symptoms, including:
Discharge from the eyes
Some types of eye infections resolve themselves, but in many cases treatments such as prescription antibiotic eye drops, ointments, and even steroids or oral antibiotics are needed to resolve them. It’s important that you heed the advice of your eye doctor and complete the treatment as prescribed so that there are no long-term complications affecting your vision.
For more information about how to tell the difference between different eye conditions, or to schedule an appointment to discuss your eyes, please contact our expert team at Great Lakes Vision Care at (734) 212-5157.