Itchy, Red Eyes? How to Tell If It’s Allergy or Infection

What to consider before you self-treat

If you have red, itchy eyes and it’s hay fever time, you likely assume that allergies are causing the problem — and that you can treat it on your own with over-the-counter eye drops. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as that.
Even if you find a guide to help you choose the best eye drops from the drugstore aisle, you may treat for allergies when the real problem is an eye infection.
Before you head to the drugstore, here’s what you need to know about these two very different conditions.

Allergies or infection? Here’s how you can tell

Whether ragweed or pet dander is the culprit, allergens affect the eyes in the same way.
Eye infections can come from many causes — virus, bacteria, parasite or fungus — and the symptoms vary with the cause, but in general, infections have a longer list of symptoms when compared to allergies.

Common Symptoms Allergies Infections
Redness X X
Itching X X
Burning X X
Clear, watery discharge X X
Pain X
Gritty feel in eyes X
Sensitivity to light X
Thick discharge X – Bacterial
Mucus-like discharge X – Viral

The bottom line is that if anything more than tear-like fluids come from your eye or you feel eye pain, it’s likely more than allergies.
To get the right treatment, you’ll need your eye doctor to find out what’s behind your eye problem.
Eye allergies aren’t contagious but they can be miserable to deal with. If it’s an infection, you run the risk of damaging your eye and/or spreading it to others.

How can you avoid eye problems?

You can minimize your risks for both eye allergies and infections. Keeping windows shut and other easily implemented strategies can help you survive seasonal allergies, while an air purifier can help you cope with indoor allergies.
Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is the most common eye infection, caused by a virus or bacteria. Either way, it’s easily spread.
Frequent hand washing is just one way to help prevent pink eye and other contagious diseases. Taking care with makeup and cosmetic contact lenses also helps prevent bacterial pink eye from spreading….
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Source: Cleveland Clinic
Image: All About Vision