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13/05/19Itchy eyes? Top tips for hayfever sufferers

The flowers are out and we are enjoying the sunshine, but spare a thought for those who suffer with hayfever. Unfortunately, there is no cure but the good news is you can take measures to make it more manageable. Hayfever affects as many as one in five, with common symptoms being red, itching and watery eyes, sneezing and a runny nose. We’d like to share some tips to help relieve your symptoms.

What causes Hayfever?

Hayfever is a common allergic reaction to pollen. Our eyes are affected by it because pollen binds to ‘mast cells’ in the eye, causing them to release histamine. This substance makes the eyes red, itchy, watery and swollen and you may have discharge. This is known as seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. Many sufferers have repeat symptoms every year so when pollen season approaches be prepared!

Avoid contact with pollen

Sounds simple but if you’re allergic to pollen, try not to go near it. This may be easier said than done, as pollen is in the air and staying indoors all day isn’t ideal. You can plan ahead though, daily pollen counts are available online and if you can be flexible, go out on days it isn’t so high. If you do need to go out, use the air conditioning in the car to circulate the air internally, wash your hair and hands often and wear close-fitting sunglasses to act as a partial barrier.

Cold eye compresses

Laying a cold compress across closed eyelids (a clean flannel soaked in cold water) will reduce swelling and redness and give temporary relief.

Don’t rub your eyes

Whatever you do, don’t rub your eyes; you’ll make things worse and wish you hadn’t. Eye rubbing releases more histamine, the substance responsible for the itching in the first place. Blink instead and try lubricating eye drops to relieve the temptation to rub.

Eye drops for Hayfever

Simply using lubricating eye drops is an easy way to relieve your symptoms. Provided that you choose preservative-free eye drops, you can use them as often as you need to. If you refrigerate them, they’ll feel cool and soothing when you put them in. The lubricant will wash out some of the pollen whilst helping to stop pollen sticking to the eye.

Medicated eye drops

For the more serious sufferers,  we recommend using medicated eye drops. Medicated antihistamine eye drops are available without a prescription. These work quickly but do take the advice on the label seriously. Some can only be used for seven days or your eyes will go red again.

Mast cell stabiliser eye drops are the preferred choice. These may include Sodium Cromoglicate 2% which is available with or without a prescription and can be used for longer periods. It is important to note that these can take between five and 14 days to take effect, so don’t expect the immediate relief you get with an antihistamine. Drops combining antihistamines and mast cell stabilisers can be very effective but are available on prescription only.

Hayfever for contact lens wearers

If you’re a contact lens wearer, see your eye care practitioner before using drops. Bottles of eye drops usually contain preservatives. Repeated application with reusable soft lenses can result in preservatives becoming concentrated within the matrix of the lens material, causing adverse effects on the eye. It may be you can continue to wear your contact lenses if the drops are preservative free or change to a daily disposable lens for the hayfever season. It is best to seek advice on the right solution for you.

Other eye diseases can cause redness and discomfort so it’s always good to visit your Optometrist at the first sign of a problem. They can help in the diagnosis, give you advice on treatment or refer you to the best place if the problem is more serious.


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