top of page
  • Writer's pictureMaria Cholakova

Is It an Eye Allergy or Something Else? Comparing Eye Conditions

Eye allergies are quite common, and they affect people of all ages. The cause of an eye allergy may be dust, pollen, pet dander, medications, foods, animal or insect bites/stings, chemicals, and even certain types of makeup, perfumes, or cosmetics. Consequently, there is inflammation, itching, swelling, and redness in the eyes. But is it really an eye allergy or something else?

These symptomatologies may confuse many patients, as they are frequently occurring in other eye conditions. We summarized some of these conditions to help you tell the difference between an eye allergy and an eye disease with similar clinical symptoms.

What are Eye Allergies?

Eye allergy (allergic conjunctivitis) is triggered by an allergic reaction to substances that come into contact with the eyes. When these substances come into contact with the eyes, the body releases histamine and other chemicals. These chemicals tend to cause inflammation, redness, itching, and eye-watering.

In most cases, general and life-threatening allergies can also cause eye inflammation. So there is not always a need for the irritant to contact the eye to trigger more serious allergic reactions like redness, pain, and swelling.

Eye allergy

Recognizing Eye Allergies

Eye allergy symptoms may vary individually. Nevertheless, some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Redness

  • Itching

  • Burning

  • Watering

  • Swelling

  • Sensitivity to light

In addition to eye complaints, people with eye allergies may also experience other symptoms:

  • Sneezing

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Scratchy throat

If you experience any of these eye allergy symptoms, consult a medical eye doctor or allergist.

In some cases, your medical examiner may also perform tests to determine the specific allergen causing your them. These tests may include skin or blood testing.

Depending on the cause of your ocular allergies, your ophthalmologist may recommend a treatment plan. This may include allergy eye drops, antihistamines, or other medications.

Besides medical treatment, there are also steps you can take for eye allergy treatment at home. These home remedies may include:

  1. Avoid exposure to allergens and substances that trigger your eye allergies

  2. Apply cool compresses to your eyes to relieve itching and swelling

  3. Keep your home clean to remove existing and potential allergens

  4. Use artificial tears to alleviate dryness and eye irritation


Eye Allergy or Dry Eyes?

Whenever they experience initial eye discomfort, most people start to wonder if it's an eye allergy or dry eyes. That's because dry eye syndrome is quite common and has symptoms that are easy to confuse with an allergic reaction.

Here are some key differences between eye allergy and dry eyes to look for:


Allergies to the eyes are brought about by an immune response to an allergen. In contrast, the cause of dry eyes is a lack of moisture or inadequate eye lubrication. It could be due to medical conditions or certain lifestyle choices.


While both allergies and dry eyes cause redness and irritation, eye allergies are typically followed by skin and eyelid itching, excessive watering, and sensitivity to light. Dry eyes, on the other hand, may cause gritty or sandy eyes, stinging, eye fatigue, and dryness sensations.


An eye allergy occurs seasonally or in response to specific allergens. Dry eye syndrome may be chronic or occur in response to environmental factors, for instance, poor sleep quality, wind or air conditioning.

Other symptoms

Eye allergies may also cause other typical allergy symptoms. Those could be sneezing, runny nose, and scratchy throat. At the same time, dry eyes may contribute to discomfort while wearing contact lenses or difficulty reading or working on a computer for extended periods.

Eye Allergy or Pink Eye?

It can be difficult to distinguish if a condition is eye allergy or conjunctivitis (pink eye). In other words, they have identical symptoms. Moreover, the medical term for eye allergies is allergic conjunctivitis. So you can imagine how similar of symptoms we are talking about.

There are some key differences to look for when determining if a condition is an eye allergy or pink eye:


An eye allergy results from an immune reaction to substances in contact with the eyes. At the same time, pink eye is a result of a viral or bacterial infection.


Eye allergies have distinctive symptoms that conjunctivitis also has. Then again, there are some additional signs that you may actually have pink eye and not an allergy. Conjunctivitis comes with a gritty eye feeling, along with discharge or crusting of the eyelids. With an eye allergy, discharge, and crusting is rare.


Allergic reactions to the eyes occur seasonally or immediately after contact with specific allergens. Pink eye, however, might occur at any time. It is often preceded by other symptoms, such as fever or a sore throat.


Eye allergies are not contagious. Unlike conjunctivitis. The common cause of pink eye is a viral or bacterial infection which can be highly transmission-prone and infectious.

Eye Allergy or Infection?

Identifying an eye allergy from an eye infection is a matter of paying attention to your symptoms and their underlying causes.

For example, an eye infection is a result of a bacterial or viral disease. It may be painful and often requires prescription medication. In contrast, a mild eye allergy is often treatable with topical antihistamine remedies.

Here are some significant distinctions to look for:


Eye allergies occur when the eye is hypersensitive to an agent that has come in contact with the eyes or the body. Whereas infections arise from bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms that invade the eye. You are more prone to ocular infections if you have poor hygiene habits or sleep with old pillowcases. Infections may also happen when in contact with dirty water or external elements.


In most cases, eye infection symptoms differ greatly from allergy symptoms. Infectious eye diseases often cause visible pustules, local pain, stinging sensation, and excess discharge. Signs like those are uncommon for a regular eye allergy.


An eye allergy occurs periodically or reacts to allergens. In contrast, eye infections can occur at any time and may develop rapidly within hours or days.


Eye allergies are sudden and not transmissible. While eye infections may be highly contagious, depending on the type of infection that occurs in the eye.

Eye Allergy or Blepharitis?

Eye redness and itching are some of the most worrying eye problem symptoms. That's because they visually indicate that something is wrong with your eye(s), and it's hard to hide it or ignore it. Some of the possible conditions you might be suffering from, if this happens, are allergies or blepharitis.

Let's examine the differences between eye allergy and blepharitis to help you distinguish between the two conditions and seek appropriate treatment:


Unlike allergic reactions, blepharitis is a bacterial skin inflammation. Specifically, inflammation of the eyelids and the skin surrounding the eyes. The cause of blepharitis is bacteria that live on the skin, such as Staphylococcus aureus, or problems with the oil glands in the eyelids. Other skin conditions, such as rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis can also lead to blepharitis.


With allergies, you may feel itchy or notice swelling and redness in the area around the eyes. When you have blepharitis, though, you have the same symptoms along with a few extra more - irritation of the eyelid margins, scaling, flaking, and crusting of the eyelashes and the eyelids.


Eye allergies are seasonally triggered or happen in response to certain allergens. Blepharitis may be chronic or recurrent throughout your life.

Other symptoms

Blepharitis may also cause a feeling of burning or stinging in the eyes, as well as sensitivity to light and blurry vision. The best way to distinguish it from an allergy is to consult an ophthalmology professional.

In conclusion...

Please note, the information we provide here is medically accurate, although, it is general and brief and might be incomplete or irrelevant to your eye health status.

Every person experiences eye allergies and other eye conditions differently. That's why we urge individuals to NOT self-diagnose.

Certain types of allergies could be potentially life-threatening!

If you suspect you might be having an allergic reaction, or you are experiencing unusual or persistent eye discomfort - seek medical attention immediately. An eye care specialist can conduct an examination and give a proper diagnosis and relevant treatment.

For more resources about eye health, check out the Ophthalmology24 blog.

All medical facts are checked by Atanas Bogoev M.D.

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page