How can hay fever symptoms affect your eyes?
15 June 2022
What are the symptoms of hay fever?
Hay fever season is well and truly upon us which, if you’re one of the 18 million people in the UK who suffer with symptoms, is likely to be causing you discomfort already. There are a number of symptoms associated with pollen allergy (which is exactly what hay fever is), the most common examples being:
- Excessive sneezing
- Runny nose
- Itchy and red eyes
- Excessively watery eyes
You may also experience a grit-like sensation in your eyes, or swollen eyelids as your body attempts to fight off the pollen. Sometimes, the inflammation in your eyes can affect the inside of your eyelids too, as well as the sclera (the see-through membrane covering the white of your eye).
Not everyone is allergic to every type of pollen, and various types of pollen are released at different times of the year. This means that you might suffer with hay fever symptoms from March-May if tree pollen affects you, while your friend with a weed pollen allergy might experience them from June-September. The Met Office advises that the different types of pollen are released in the following months:
- Tree pollen: late March to mid-May
- Grass pollen: mid-May to July
- Weed pollen: end of June to September
Reasons not to rub your itchy hay fever eyes
Wanting to rub your eyes when they feel itchy is a totally natural response. Typically, this helps to lubricate your eyes and encourages tear flow, all a clever response from our bodies in order to flush the eyes out and remove the irritant. Unfortunately, with hay fever, it doesn’t always work as well as this, as simply being around pollen can cause discomfort too.
When you rub your eyes hard, you can unintentionally break the blood vessels in your eyes, creating further redness and eye bags. You might also accidentally scratch your cornea. This is painful and can take a few days to heal, as well as the intense rubbing leading to high blood pressure. On top of this, touching your eyes can also increase the chances of introducing bacteria into the eye, leading to infection.
However, one of the most problematic results of rubbing your eyes too much is the development of keratoconus. This is a condition in which your cornea begins to weaken and push forward, forming more of a conical shape. Around 1 in 2,000 people are affected by this and it can lead to blurry vision, short-sightedness, astigmatism and light sensitivity. You can read more about keratoconus and its treatment on our website here. Although keratoconus can be hereditary too, one of the biggest risk factors for its development is intense eye rubbing.
How can you minimise your hay fever symptoms?
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the severity of your hay fever symptoms. The vast majority of them involve simply removing pollen from yourself after having been outside, or preventing it from entering your system in the first place. Examples include:
- Shower and wash your hair after having been outside
- Wash your clothes to remove pollen
- Take antihistamine tablets
- Reduce your alcohol intake (it is known to exacerbate some symptoms)
- Put Vaseline around your nose to catch the pollen
How to stop hay fever from affecting your eyes
Following the steps outlined above should go a long way to improving your hay fever symptoms. However, for many people, the eye-related symptoms are the most severe and also the most debilitating. We rely on our vision for nearly every aspect of life so when it’s compromised due to excessive tearing, itchiness or swelling, it can make things difficult.
You may find that antihistamine eye drops are the most effect treatment for you. Antihistamines counteract the allergic reaction your body has to pollen, so by applying the antihistamines directly into your eye, you should find that your symptoms are somewhat alleviated. You might also benefit from bathing your eyes after being outside. This removes any pollen stuck around your eyes to prevent further irritation.
Finally, the best thing you can do is to wear sunglasses (the bigger and more wraparound in style, the better!) when you’re out and about during hay fever season. Even if it’s not a particularly sunny day, this prevents the pollen from entering your eyes and it should make a huge difference to any swelling, itchiness or redness that you usually experience.
Head to our blog to read more on ways to protect your eye health and ensure you’re looking after your vision.
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