Are you suffering from red, itchy, watery eyes? If so, you may belong to the one in five of the population who suffer from hay fever.
Most of us have been enjoying the recent sunny weather. However, if you are a hay fever sufferer, the resulting high pollen counts may cause untold misery with runny noses, sore throats and frequent sneezing or coughing. If your eyes are affected it makes them itchy, watery and red – a condition called seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. Unfortunately, recent studies show that hay fever is on the increase. While currently around 20% of the population have the condition, these rates are projected to double over the next 20 years.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is caused by an allergic reaction to airborne pollen. It occurs when your immune system mistakes pollen grains for harmful foreign bodies. Hyper-sensitised cells respond by releasing the chemical histamine which causes swelling and inflammation in the membranes lining your eyes, nose, throat and sinuses.
Treatments & tips
While there is no cure for hay fever, there are a variety of treatments and techniques to help relieve its troublesome symptoms. Where possible, you should protect your eyes by minimizing exposure to pollen. Useful strategies include staying indoors at peak times, keeping windows closed and wearing wraparound sunglasses when outside. Eyewashes and artificial tear drops help by flushing out pollen particles from your eyes. Inflammation can be eased by applying cold compresses to your closed eyelids. You should also try to avoid rubbing your eyes as this will aggravate any swelling.
When pollen cannot be avoided, you can try some of the many over-the-counter medications available. Antihistamine tablets are usually very effective at soothing eye irritation, as well as alleviating the other symptoms of hay fever. If your eye symptoms are particularly acute, anti-histamine eye drops offer fast-acting relief. However, as their effects tend to be short-lived, antihistamine eye drops may need to be instilled several times a day.
Other eye drops
Longer-lasting relief is provided by other types of drop, known as mast cell stabilisers. These work by preventing the release of histamine from mast cells (the cells that make and store histamine). However, compared to antihistamines, mast cell stabilisers take longer to work, so it is best to begin using them about 2 weeks prior to the start of the hay fever season. For more severe cases, combination drops - containing both anti-histamines and mast cell stabilisers - are available on prescription.
If you are suffering from signs and symptoms of hay fever, don’t suffer in silence - consult your optometrist, pharmacist or GP for expert advice.