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The hay fever season runs from spring through to autumn and affects nearly 18 million people in the UK. As one of the most common allergic conditions, hay fever is triggered by an allergic reaction to different types of pollen, causing inflammation and symptoms such as sneezing, itchy, runny or blocked nose and difficulty in breathing. Pollen grains can also set off an allergic reaction in the conjunctiva (the transparent membrane covering the white of the eye) which becomes inflamed causing watery, red and itchy eyes. This may cause your eyes and eyelids to swell and you may also experience a gritty feeling in your eyes. 

Managing your hay fever:

  • Stay indoors – when there is a high pollen count, keep windows and doors closed and keep surfaces clear with a damp duster. Avoid going out in the early evening and midmorning when the pollen count is at its highest.
  • Wear sunglasses when you are outdoors – wraparound styles offer more protection from pollen.
  • Wear glasses rather than your contact lenses – especially when the pollen count is high.
  • Change your clothes and shower regularly – if you have been outside for a while, you may have pollen on your clothes, skin and hair. Taking a shower and changing your clothes can help.
  • Rinse your eyes regularly – use a dedicated eye wash to remove any dust and pollen from the surface of the eyes.
  • Use a cold compress or fridge cooled artificial tear eye drops – if you develop eye symptoms, the cooling sensation can help reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Apply petroleum jelly to your nostrils – this will trap pollen.

Treating your hay fever:

Anti-allergy eye drops – In people with hay fever type allergies, the body mistakes something harmless, such as pollen, for a threat. This causes some of the defensive cells in the body, called mast cells, to produces histamine, which causes allergic inflammation and symptoms. While the best way to prevent hay fever is to avoid your pollen triggers, Anti-allergy eye drops can be used to help treat eye symptoms, as they target the site of inflammation directly. If you wear contact lenses remember to check if you can use the drops while your lenses are in.

One of the most common groups of eye drops used are called ‘mast cell stabilisers’. These work by preventing the allergic reaction and release of histamine, so these drops can help to treat symptoms before they start. The College has produced an infographic which gives guidance on the best time to start taking eye drops depending on your pollen triggers.

Antihistamines – Antihistamines are another option with a more immediate effect. These work by blocking the action of histamine released from mast cells during the allergic reaction. So, although they can’t prevent the allergic reaction, they can help reduce the severity of symptoms quickly when they arise. Eye drops from both of these groups can be prescribed or purchased from your local optical practice or pharmacy on the advice of your optometrist. Dual action anti-allergy eye drops, which combine the effects of mast cell stabilisers and antihistamines, may also be recommended depending on your needs – however these are only available on prescription.

Steroid eye drops – Sometimes, steroid eye drops may be prescribed in severe cases – these are powerful anti-inflammatories but can have serious side effects, such as glaucoma, cataracts and damage to the cornea. They are also only available on prescription, and treatment is closely monitored to ensure they are safe to use.

If you want to learn more, ask your optometrist about the best ways to help your eyes during the hay fever season.

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