Difference Between An Allergy and An Eye Infection

If you have red, itchy eyes, you may be wondering if the cause is an allergy or an eye infection. The symptoms are similar for both conditions, even though they are caused by different things. The reason for this is because both pink eye and allergies are types of conjunctivitis, a term used to describe inflammation in the conjunctiva. 

It’s important to know the difference between eye allergies and eye infections because they require different protocols and treatments. Let’s cover the differences between the two and how to determine which one you are dealing with. 

What are Ocular Allergies?

Eye allergies are caused from allergens in the environment, such as ragweed or pet dander. Many types of allergens (like pollen) can’t be avoided because they live in the air. You can reduce symptoms by washing your face, rinsing out the eyes, staying indoors on high-pollen days and using allergy medications. 

Although they pose little threat to your vision, eye allergies can be incredibly uncomfortable. They generally come and go based on the seasons and include the following symptoms: 

  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Burning
  • Watery eyes 

What are Eye Infections?

Eye infections are caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites. The symptoms are similar to ocular allergies but can include other complications like:

  • Pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Thick discharge
  • Colored discharge 
  • Gritty feeling 

Essentially, any time you have other symptoms beyond tearing, redness or itching, it’s likely to be more than allergies. Unlike allergies, eye infections can cause damage to the eyes, and they are contagious to others. This is why it’s important to know the difference between the two. 

How to Treat Eye Allergies and Infections

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your eye specialist. They can determine the exact cause of the symptoms, as well as screen your eyes for any potential damage. You will then be given the appropriate plan of action, which may include medication and lifestyle changes. 

For allergies, the most common treatments include oral antihistamines, topical medications and short-term medications to control inflammation. You’ll only need these medications when your symptoms flare-up. Over-the-counter artificial tears are also a helpful solution, as they flush out the eyes and keep them moist. 

For infections, the treatment all depends on the type of problem you have. If it’s a viral infection, it should clear up on its own. Bacterial infections usually require an antibiotic, as do fungal infections. Your ophthalmologist will know the best course of treatment that is least invasive but most effective. 

Getting a quick diagnosis is the key to proper treatment and fast healing. If your eyes are showing signs of an infection or allergies, schedule an appointment with Empire Retina Consultants today.