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Allergies or infection: What’s causing those red, itchy eyes?

Wellness

Allergies or infection: What’s causing those red, itchy eyes?

Struggling with red, itchy eyes? It may be your body’s way of letting you know your allergies are kicking in. Or maybe there’s another, potentially more troublesome reason your eyes are irritated.
Red, puffy, irritated eyes can be caused by allergies or an infection that, if not properly treated, can harm your eyes.
“An infection will require different treatment than an allergy,” says Dr. Lisa Centilli, a family medicine physician who practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach. “If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to seek help from your family medicine physician, who can help you pinpoint the cause and find relief.”

Signs of infection

Eye infections can be caused by a virus, bacteria, parasite or fungus. Some of the symptoms associated with an infection, including redness, itching, burning and watery discharge, may mirror those of an allergic reaction. However, an infection may have additional symptoms such as pain, a gritty feeling in the eyes, blurry vision, swelling and sensitivity to light.

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In the case of a bacterial infection, there may be a thick discharge. For a viral infection, there may be a mucus-like discharge.
Viral infections usually clear up on their own, but lubricating eye drops and cold compresses can reduce symptoms. A doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops to treat a bacterial eye infection.

Allergic reaction

For allergies, a physician can prescribe topical medications that are usually better than general allergy remedies for treating eye allergies. Steroid or anti-inflammatory eye drops prescribed by a doctor can help control inflammation. Over-the-counter artificial tears can help flush out allergens.

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“It’s crucial to know if you’re suffering from an allergy or an infection because an infection can cause damage to the eye or you can spread it to others,” Dr. Centilli says.
For those who suffer during pollen season, Dr. Centilli has some tips:

  • Don’t touch or rub eyes
  • Wash hand frequently with soap and water
  • Use allergen covers for pillows, comforters, duvet and mattresses
  • Wash bed linens and pillowcases in hot water and detergent to minimize allergens
  • Keep windows closed during high pollen and mold seasons

Whatever the cause of eye irritation, Dr. Centilli says a family physician can help. She notes that your eyes can reflect how well other systems in your body are working.
“For example, some autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Graves’ disease can present with eye complaints,” she says. “Based on symptoms, a family physician can order further studies to investigate further.”

Dr. Lisa Centilli is a board-certified family medicine physician who offers a broad range of care to patients of all ages. She practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach. 

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