As an optometrist, I get asked frequently about how to cure itchy, sore hay fever eyes. For some individuals, myself included, it’s the only symptom of hay fever, so it might get misdiagnosed. For others, it is merely the sidekick of the more common sneezing and runny nose.
What Causes Hay Fever?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. Grass pollen is the most common allergen (May to July), but tree pollen in early spring and weed pollen in late summer are also responsible.
Because pollen is airborne, it gets breathed in through the nose and mouth. This is why it affects the upper airways the most. When a grain of pollen reaches the damp lining of the nose or throat, it can burst and release its contents, including allergenic proteins. These come into contact with mast cells. Mast cells are immune cells, present in the lining of the eyelids as well as throughout the body. They are the first line of defence against “invaders”.
In some people, these harmless proteins cause no problem at all. Others are not so lucky, especially those with other allergies. Receptors on the surface of their mast cells bind to these invading proteins. This leads to the release of histamine and it’s the histamine which triggers sneezing. This is also what causes the secretion of fluid (mucus) and extra tears to try flush the invader out of the body.
Signs and Symptoms of Hay Fever Eyes
Vernal conjunctivitis is the proper term for itchy hay fever eyes. Any word ending in -itis means inflammation. So, conjuncitivits is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane over the front of the eye. Vernal refers to a chronic, seasonal form of conjunctivitis, because hay fever lasts for several weeks. This is different from allergic conjunctivitis, which for example, happens after stroking a pet.
It is defined by any or all of the following:
-Itchy eyes (especially in the inner corners).
-Pink or red eyes.
-Bumpy eyelids, especially on the insides.
How To Minimise Hay Fever In General
The way to reduce hay fever is to prevent pollen getting into the body. This is easier said than done, but there are a few things that will help, particularly when the pollen count is high.
-Stay indoors if possible. Close windows in the home and close air vents in the car.
-Avoid hanging washing outside. (You don’t want pollens on your clean sheets!)
-Wash hands frequently and avoid touching the face and eyes when possible.
-Close your eyes when brushing your hair.
-Shower and wash hair and change your clothing if you’ve been outside.
-Wear sunglasses. They act as a physical barrier and stop pollen from getting into the eyes. If you usually wear contact lenses, switch to your spectacles for the same reason.
How To Treat Itchy Hay Fever Eyes
A cold compress or an ice pack will help to reduce swelling and inflammation and will cool the eyes if they feel hot. You can make your own compress by wetting a flannel and putting it in the fridge until it’s very cold. Lie down and place it over closed eyes. You can also get eye masks which contain a gel which can be heated or cooled depending on requirements. Again, put it in the fridge or freezer before use.
Oral anti-histamines such as Piriton and Benadryl, will relieve hay fever eyes as well as the other non-ocular symptoms of hay fever such as sneezing and a runny nose. As with any medication, check that it is suitable first.
Eye drops which contain Sodium Chromoglycate, (sometimes spelled Chromoglicate), will reduce/cure vernal conjunctivitis. Sodium Chromoglycate is a mast cell stabiliser, so it stops mast cells from producing the histamine, which as I said above, is responsible for the allergic reaction. Optichrom is probably the best-known brand but do look to see if there is an own brand version, because they are normally better value. They are available off the shelf in pharmacies. Do ask a pharmacist or your optometrist for further advice though if necessary.
A word of warning though. Like most eye drops, these contain a preservative which can occasionally cause irritation. It can also discolour soft contact lenses, so don’t wear contact lenses if you’re using such eye drops.
I’m currently using Murine Eye drops and they’re brilliant. They soothe almost immediately and stop the itching within a matter of minutes.
These sunglasses were a gift from Deadstock Eyewear. This is a brilliant new brand, and concept, run by a fellow optometrist. He sells unused vintage and dead stock spectacle frames and donates a percentage of each sale to Vision Aid Overseas. Do take a look at the website. I love mine.
And if you have sensitive eyes, take a look at this post I wrote about makeup for sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers.
So useful, I hate having hayfever x
Aww, thank you Vicki. yes, it’s awful isn’t it xxx
Interesting article on sensitive eyes.My eyes water on and off during the day,could this be hay fever.The Butterfly skin creams and make up sound very good.are these products organic.Maybe it’s my skincare routine that ist making my eyes water.thank you.
It could be hay fever yes, although, the watering is often accompanied with itching too. The Butterfly skincare and makeup is excellent. All of the ingredients are chosen because they are known not to irritate sensitive skin/eyes. The brand has won awards from the pharmaceutical and optical industry because the products are so effective xxx
Liz I’ve told Keith to read this post as he suffers terribly from hayfever as you know… 48 years of it and no sign of it getting better with ageing as he was once told!! I’ve ordered the eye drops, so thank you for that recommendation – he doesn’t use any but he has the scratchiest eyes known to mankind, poor thing. Let’s hope the drops help.
Love that cute pic of you in the sunnies at the end!! As I said on IG: more close ups please, gorgeous lady!
Oh poor Keith. The drops really should help him. It might be worth brushing Riley down before you let him in the house too. His fur means he’ll be a vector for pollen too, especially if he lies down on the grass. Give Keith my love and give Riley a stroke! xxx
You are so good at this stuff Liz!
I don’t get hayfever but Mark does & it’s been terrible since we moved to New Jersey with all the different trees & blossoms. Thanks so much for all this info & the tips, I’ll pass them on to him xx
Oh thank you MT. I really do love the more clinical side of optometry. Yes, all of the different trees an blossoms will take a bit of getting used to. Poor Mark- I hope these tips help. Lots of love xxxx
Thank you for some great advice Liz. I’ve since been into store, phone in one hand with this blog open and eye drops in the other hand looking at the ingredients 😂 . It’s little things like this that I’d never known, which make so much of a difference! xxx
Oh Heather! So lovely to hear from you and I’m so glad the drops have made a difference. They’re brilliant. Poppy and I have been using them for a few weeks now.Take good care and I hope the symptoms settle down soon! Lots of love xxxxx
I’m not sure if this is what I had but I really struggled with my eyes a few times in the past year, lots of watering and irritation mainly. I found eye drops to work SO well though to calm it all down.
Julia // The Sunday Mode
Oh that’s really good to hear Julia. Watery, irritated eyes can really drive you mad and it’s not easy to get to the bottom of it. If they were irritated because of an allergy, then this type of eyedrop, (which contains Sodium Chromoglycate will definitely have helped). Long may your calm eyes continue! xxxxx