Eyes are often the mirror of our general health, and they can also be the first to react when exposed to irritants or allergens. Among common eye problems, ocular allergies and conjunctivitis top the list. Although they share specific symptoms, it's important to understand their differences for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. If you experience persistent symptoms or uncertainty, consulting with an eye care professional is essential for personalized care and guidance.

Eye allergies

Ocular allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to harmless environmental substances, such as pollen, animal hair, dust mites or mould. When these allergens come into contact with the eyes, the immune system releases chemicals such as histamine, triggering allergic symptoms. 

Eye allergy symptoms

  • Intense itching of the eyes
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Excessive tearing
  • Burning or stinging sensation
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Clear discharge

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as "allergic conjunctivitis," is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids. Allergens and bacterial or viral infections, chemical irritants or other factors can trigger it. Conjunctivitis can be acute or chronic, depending on its duration and recurrence. 

Symptoms of conjunctivitis

  • Eye redness
  • Tearing
  • Moderate to severe itching
  • A feeling of sand in the eyes
  • Thick, sticky secretion, which may be yellowish (in the case of bacterial conjunctivitis) or clear (in the case of viral conjunctivitis) 

Differentiate between ocular allergies and conjunctivitis

Although ocular allergies and conjunctivitis share certain symptoms, there are key differences in their presentation and onset. Ocular allergies are often seasonal and can be triggered by specific allergens, such as pollen or animal hair. Conjunctivitis, on the other hand, can be caused by an allergic reaction but also by infections or irritants.

Eye examinations play a crucial role in differentiated diagnosis. An optometrist can perform a thorough eye examination and ask questions about medical history and potential symptom triggers. Allergic testing may be necessary to identify the allergens responsible for ocular allergies. 

Treatment

Treatment of ocular allergies and conjunctivitis depends on the underlying cause and the severity of symptoms. In both cases, avoiding known triggers is essential to prevent reactions. For ocular allergies, antihistamines, decongestants and stabilizing eye drops can be prescribed to relieve symptoms. For conjunctivitis, treatment may include antibiotic or antiviral eye drops, topical corticosteroids and warm compresses to relieve inflammation.

Although ocular allergies and conjunctivitis share some symptoms, they are distinct conditions with different causes and treatments. Consulting a healthcare professional is crucial for accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan, ensuring effective symptom relief and maintenance of eye health.