Have you ever experienced red, itchy, or watery eyes and wondered if it was an allergy or an eye infection? Understanding the differences between these two conditions is crucial as they require different treatments. This post examines the symptoms of eye allergies and infections and how you can distinguish one from the other.
Understanding Eye Allergies
Eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis, happen when something you’re allergic to irritates the conjunctiva, the delicate membrane covering the eye and the inside of the eyelid. Common culprits behind eye allergies include pollen, dust and pet dander.
People with eye allergies have an immune response that may cause the following symptoms:
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- Clear, watery discharge
These symptoms often appear in both eyes simultaneously, given the systemic reaction to the allergen.
Identifying Eye Infections
Eye infections occur when harmful microorganisms—bacteria, fungi and viruses—infiltrate any part of the eyeball or surrounding area. This often leads to redness, pain, discomfort and blurry vision. In severe cases, eye infections can cause serious complications and even threaten your eyesight.
The symptoms of an eye infection might overlap with allergy symptoms, making it challenging to differentiate between the two. However, certain symptoms are more likely to be associated with eye infections, such as:
- Clear, watery discharge
- Eye pain
- A gritty feeling in the eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Thicker discharge (particularly in bacterial infections)
- Mucus-like discharge (particularly in viral infections)
Unlike allergies, which are immune responses, eye infections often occur due to direct contact with infectious agents.
When to See an Eye Doctor
Although both conditions share some common symptoms, understanding their triggers and nature is critical in differentiating them.
Eye allergies are systematic, usually impacting both eyes. They are triggered by allergens and produce a clear discharge. In contrast, eye infections are often localized and can appear in one or both eyes. They are triggered by infectious agents and may produce a more mucus- or pus-like discharge.
Remember, only an eye doctor can accurately diagnose these conditions. If you are experiencing persistent symptoms or severe discomfort in your eyes, it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately to prevent potential complications.
A clear understanding of the difference between an eye allergy and an eye infection is essential. Northern Virginia Doctors of Optometry is here to help if you’re experiencing any eye discomfort or vision problems. We offer low-vision therapy and eyeglasses too. Call us at (703) 660-9494 (Alexandria), (703) 413-1400 (Crystal City), (703) 522-7676 (Clarendon), (703) 573-1200 (Falls Church) or (703) 467-9080 (Reston). You can also complete our online form to schedule an appointment.