Ask the expert - Hay fever is causing my eyes to be itchy and red, do you have any tips?

21 May


Mark Shelton
Optometrist and Clinical Development Coach

                            When it comes to our eyes, pollen grains set off an allergic reaction in the conjunctiva – the transparent membrane which covers the white of the eye. It becomes inflamed, causing the eyes to become red and itchy. Because the body’s natural response is to wash pollen out, many sufferers end up with itchy, watery eyes.

Hay fever is a particular nuisance to contact lens and glasses wearers as the surfaces build up a layer of pollen over time, which then goes on to affect our eyes. As such, it’s wise to take a preventative approach to hay fever, doing what you can to identify what causes your reactions and then keeping exposure to the allergen to a minimum.
If you suffer from hay fever, you can alleviate your symptoms by:
  • Staying indoors between 10:30am and 3:30pm, and on windy and humid days, when pollen counts are at their highest
  • If you use contact lenses, daily disposable lenses can provide a protective barrier to pollen but reusable lenses are likely to make your symptoms worse over time. Ask you Optometrist about switching to daily disposable lenses either temporarily during problematic periods or permanently. Alternatively, switching from contact lenses to glasses, and then swapping your usual glasses and sunglasses to a wraparound style, to keep pollen out of the eyes can be effective.
  • Avoiding alcohol, which is known to increase allergy symptoms
  • Using an air conditioning unit to filter the air in the buildings you’re using
  • Bathing your eyes regularly in cold water or using cooling eye masks
  • Removing hair, including a fringe, from your face – pollen gets trapped in hair and can reach the eye
  • Drying your clothes inside – materials also capture pollen, which then come into contact with your skin and can make their way to your eyes
  • Using face wipes that are designed to attract and remove pollen that may be on your face
​However, eye drops usually provide the most effective relief.

There are two types of eye drops that can help. Lubricating eye drops add an extra layer of moisture to the eyeballs, helping to keep them hydrated and clean which in turn fights the main symptoms associated with hay fever. Mast Cell Stabilisers are a type of eye drop that work to reduce the size of the bumps under the eyelids that appear with allergic conjunctivitis, it is these bumps that cause the itchy sensation so reducing them will particularly help when you have symptoms of itchy eyes. Your Optometrist can advise the most suitable eye drops for the type of contact lenses or glasses you wear, and you should only use those purchased from a reputable supplier. I regularly see clients who use the wrong type of drops and this will often make the symptoms worse.

Bear in mind that it can take between five and 14 days for eye drops to become most effective, so use an online pollen counter to spot when allergens are set to increase, so you can start using them before the symptoms begin to kick in.