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Ocular surface disease symptoms can resemble those of allergies

Community Health


Cornelius: “My eyes been waterin’ a lot since I tried petting our new kitty. Maybe I got allergies.”

Glandy: “Whooee, my eyes are waterin too. What color were that there cat?”

Cornelius: “Oh, black with a little white stripe.”

Do your eyes feel dry, sandy, burn, itch, or water at times? Do you find vision blurred or fluctuating as you read or work on the computer? You may have what we call Ocular Surface Disease. Many think it’s just allergies, or they just put up with it, when in reality there is a whole new science of testing and treatments presently emerging to take care of this group of eye problems.

First, there’s a “Tear Lab” that helps eye doctors differentiate between dry eye and an allergy or inflammation- both of which can have similar symptoms, but may need different treatments. Until recently this test was found only in very elite laboratories. With a very small sample of tears from each eye, the tear osmolarity, or salt content, can be assessed. The higher the salt concentration is, the drier the eye, with accompanying symptoms. Recent studies are also connecting dry eye to cholesterol irregularities. As such, a simple blood test may find dry eye to be part of a systemic disease.

Next, new treatments are emerging. Knowing the salt content can often help the doctor know whether to treat the disease as dry eye or as an allergy, instead of guessing.

Prescription ocular allergy drops are now being used to effectively treat sinus allergies as well, when both are present together. Since the eye drops drain from the eye cul-de-sac into the sinus cavity, both areas can be treated, often with less systemic side effects. When cholesterol is found to be a factor in the overall problem, vitamins and supplements may be considered to not only treat the symptoms, but also the principle problem itself.

Don’t just suffer, but see your eye doctor about what can be done to help you feel and see better.

Dr. Scott Borgholthaus is owner of Vision Haus Optometry in Cheney. He is a member of the Optometric Physicians of Washington and has been in private practice for over 27 years.

Dr. Borgholthaus would love to answer and/or include any questions or comments in future columns. Please send questions or comments to


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