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How does hay fever affect your eyes?

Phil Day: Superintendent Pharmacist | minute read

Eye related symptoms are common in people who experience hay fever. Hay fever affects different parts of the body, including the eyes, and the symptoms can be similar. The main effect that hay fever has across the body is swelling, reddening, and itching. The eye area can become irritated, tender, and watery.

Itchy, swollen eyes can cause difficulty reading, driving, or working. If you live with hay fever, there are treatments that help to reduce or alleviate the effects that it has on the eyes.

Symptoms are often worse during peak hay fever season. In the UK, this is usually from around late March to September when the pollen count is higher. Most people will also find that their hay fever symptoms are worse outdoors, in rural areas, and in other areas where there is more plant life.

In this article, we’ll look at what causes hay fever, and how you can manage symptoms to minimise their impact on your day to day life.

What causes hay fever?

Hay fever is a type of allergic reaction caused by pollen from flowers, trees, and grasses. Not all of us experience hay fever. It is thought that around one in four people in the UK live with allergies, and hay fever makes up a large proportion of this. While most people develop signs of hay fever in childhood, it can also be developed in adulthood.

For those of us with hay fever, the body mistakes pollen as a threat, and it reacts to this. It tries to fight off the threat, which can cause uncomfortable symptoms. The body releases chemicals called histamines. These chemicals cause swelling, itching, and redness. Hay fever cannot be cured and stopped completely, but it can be treated with a range of medicines and natural remedies that help to manage and control symptoms.

Hay fever symptoms can affect many parts of the body, including the nose, throat, skin, sinuses, and eyes. Although the nature of symptoms can be similar across different areas, you can find treatments specifically designed to provide fast, concentrated relief such as eye drops or throat sprays.

How does hay fever affect your eyes?

Hay fever has several effects on the eyes. The most common symptom of hay fever that people find affects their eyes is itchiness. Other common hay fever effects on the eyes are swelling, watering, or dryness of the eyes. Hay fever can also make the skin around the eyes, including the eyelids, swell and become itchy.

The combination of eye itchiness and watering can make it difficult for people with hay fever to complete normal tasks. Watery eyes in particular can make it hard to drive, read, use tools, or do anything where visual acuity is needed for safety. It is recommended that you do not drive if your eyes are watering too much to be able to safely see the road and any hazards.

Of course, every person will experience hay fever symptoms differently. You may also find that no two hay fever incidents are alike. This means that the symptoms in your eyes may vary when suffering from hay fever. If you have any concerns that eye problems are not related to hay fever, you should see a doctor or health care professional. If you accidentally irritate your eye, for example by scratching, you should also seek medical help, especially if you think you have damaged your eye.

You may also notice that your face feels full, including behind your eyes. This may be due to the swelling that hay fever causes.

Why does hay fever make your eyes itch?

To understand how hay fever makes your eyes itch, we need to look at the chemical reactions in your body that cause hay fever. Hay fever is generally caused when the body incorrectly thinks that pollen is a danger to your body. This triggers an allergic response as the body tries to stop the pollen from getting into your system. Histamines are released that can cause redness and irritation that leads to itching. Surrounding skin can also become swollen which leads to more discomfort. The body will try to expel any pollen from the eye area which can lead to watery eyes.

How to stop itchy eyes from hay fever?

There are different ways to treat itchy eyes caused by hay fever. Here’s an outline of the most common methods used.

Hay fever treatments for eyes

The main hay fever treatment is an antihistamine. This stops the histamines in your body from causing pain and swelling. Regular antihistamine tablets act generally and attempt to reduce the swelling everywhere. However, you can also buy hay fever eye drops that can help reduce swelling and itchiness in and around the eyes.

These are ideal if your symptoms are limited to the eyes, or if you have any issues taking tablets. Eye drops won’t make you drowsy like some antihistamine medicines can, so they can be safely used throughout the day.  

If your hay fever is severe, you may find you need to take antihistamine tablets in addition to eye drops. Always read the instructions that accompany the product, as these will tell you if there’s a chance of it reacting with other medicines you might be taking. If you are still in doubt, ask a pharmacist or healthcare professional to make sure combining medications is safe.

When pregnant, you may find that your symptoms are harder to manage as you're more limited in what medications you can take, but antihistamine eye drops are usually still appropriate.

Allergy wipes and tissues can also help prevent itchy eyes from hay fever. Simply wipe one over your face to clear away pollen.

Home remedies for itchy eyes from hay fever

There are also various home remedies that can help to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of hay fever in your eyes. Not all of these will work for everyone, so you may have to try different options until you find something that meets your needs.

One of the most popular home remedies for itchy eyes is a cold, damp compress.

Other home remedies for hay fever eyes include vitamin C supplements, vitamin D supplements, and decongestants, which can lessen the overall pressure behind your eyes.

Preventing hay fever symptoms

If you’re prone to hay fever, it can be beneficial to learn how to manage your symptoms. Some of the best ways to prevent hay fever symptoms include the following.

●      Prepare for the outdoors on days with a high pollen count. If you’re using antihistamines, take one before you leave and consider taking some allergy wipes, eye drops, and other treatments with you.

●      Do not keep pollen-heavy plants. If you like to keep plants in your garden or home, consider varieties that don't produce excessive pollen.

●      Use a barrier method. Keep pollen at bay with products like wraparound sunglasses and nasal sprays. These methods should reduce your exposure and decrease the severity of your symptoms.

●      Eat antihistamine foods. There are certain foods that may be able to help reduce the severity of your hay fever if they are taken in advance. For example, some of the most popular foods that may prevent hay fever include garlic, ginger, and locally sourced honey.

●      Avoid contact lenses. Contact lenses may cause additional irritation to the eyes. Give your eyes a rest during hay fever season and use your glasses on days when you’re out and about.

Useful resources

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergies

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever/

https://lookafteryoureyes.org/eye-care/hay-fever/