When your eyes feel irritated, it can be for several reasons. But two very common things can irritate your eyes: allergies and dryness. 

Sometimes it can be tricky to tell these two things apart as they not only present similar symptoms, but you can also have both at the same time. Allergies tend to exacerbate dry eyes; the same is true with dry eyes making allergies worse. 

The only way to know what’s causing your eye irritation is to see your eye doctor for a diagnosis. But there are some subtle differences between allergy symptoms and dry eye symptoms that you can look out for to have a better understanding of what may be causing your discomfort. 

Once you’re more aware of what may be causing your symptoms, it can be easier to explain them to your ophthalmologist so they can diagnose and treat you. Keep reading to find out if you could be suffering from allergies or dry eyes and what to do about it!

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergies can cause many frustrating symptoms. When they irritate your eyes, it’s called allergic conjunctivitis. 

The conjunctiva is the lining of your eye and eyelids, and conjunctivitis occurs is what it’s called when that lining becomes inflamed.

Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Watering 
  • Mucus discharge

Allergic conjunctivitis often occurs along with sinus allergies, which can cause a runny, itchy nose. The most common allergen that triggers allergic conjunctivitis is tree pollen. However, allergic conjunctivitis can also be triggered by pet dander, dust, and other airborne allergens.

Dry Eyes

Your eyes may become too dry if they cannot produce tears correctly. Lacking tear production may be due to temporary factors like a dry environment, or it can also be due to a chronic condition called dry eye syndrome. 

But regardless of the cause, the symptoms of dry eyes tend to be the same and include:

  • Burning
  • Redness 
  • Watering
  • Mucus discharge
  • A gritty feeling
  • Itchiness

When these symptoms persist for an extended time and don’t go away when you change your environment, it could be because you have a chronic eye condition like dry eye syndrome.

How Do You Tell Symptoms Apart?

Although it may seem simple, the only way you can tell allergies or dry eyes apart is to see your eye doctor. You can also have allergies and dry eyes at the same time, which would make your symptoms more severe. 

However, dry eyes tend to cause more burning and stinging rather than itching. Your eyes may feel a little itchy, but primarily they tend to feel inflamed. 

They also often feel like they are gritty, even though nothing is in them. Gritty eyes are a common symptom of dry eye syndrome rather than allergic conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis causes your eyes to feel extremely itchy. It tends to be the primary symptom. 

The more you rub your eyes, the more itchy and inflamed they become. Your eyes may burn and sting, but this typically only occurs if you’ve rubbed them a lot, which can cause further irritation. 

You should never rub your eyes as it only exacerbates any eye irritation. But it can be far more challenging if you have allergic conjunctivitis.

Now, you may have both dry eyes and allergic conjunctivitis. In that case, both conditions can feed into each other. 

The more inflamed your eyes become from rubbing when they’re itchy, the more dried out they become. The drier they become, the more vulnerable they are to irritation from allergens.

If your eyes constantly feel irritated but get especially aggravated during allergy season or when exposed to common allergens, it could be because you have dry eye syndrome and allergies. It also means you should seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.


Allergic conjunctivitis is usually uncomfortable but not harmful in itself. But rubbing your eyes a lot can be detrimental as it increases your risk for infection. 

Dry eye syndrome can be very harmful, exposing your eyes to corneal abrasions and infection. Corneal abrasions and infections can lead to corneal ulcers and scarring. Corneal scarring can also cause vision loss. 

Whatever’s causing your eye irritation, you should see your eye doctor if it’s not going away on its own. Seeing your ophthalmologist allows them to diagnose you and suggest the best treatment. 

If your problem is simply allergies, they can recommend allergy medication. If you have dry eye syndrome, they can recommend various treatments.

At Traverse City Eye, we have several treatment options for dry eye syndrome, including:

Prescription Eye Drops

Your ophthalmologist may prescribe Restasis or Xiidra. These medicated eye drops help lower inflammation and aid in tear production, allowing your eyes to feel better.

Amniotic Membrane Treatments

Amniotic membranes extracted from the placenta are a natural way to lower corneal inflammation and aid with healing. We offer two amniotic membrane treatments. 

The first is Prokera, a non-invasive treatment that uses the membrane like a lens that sits on the eye for 3-5 days. If you have mechanical dry eye, also known as conjunctivochalasis, we may recommend a Biotissue Amniograft. 

Conjunctivochalasis prevents your eyes from holding tears, but by surgically replacing part of your eye with an amniotic membrane, your eyes can hold tears better, reducing corneal inflammation and allowing your eyes to start healing.

Tear Care

Tear Care is a non-invasive, in-office therapy that uses a device that emits gentle heat over the eyelids. Using gentle heat softens blocked oil glands in the eye, aiding in tear production and preventing your tears from evaporating as quickly from the lack of a protective oil layer.

If you think you may have dry eye syndrome, schedule an appointment today at Traverse City Eye in Traverse City, MI, and take your first steps toward treatment. Isn’t it time your eyes felt great again?