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How to protect your eyes during hay fever season

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Although many will feel sheer joy at the thought of enjoying the great outdoors this spring and summer, it’s a tough time for allergy sufferers. According to Allergy UK, around 18 million people fight the debilitating symptoms of hay fever in the UK every year.

If you suffer from hay fever, read on to discover how it affects the eyes, and how to find relief.

How to protect your eyes during hay fever season

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Recognising the symptoms of hay fever

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to tree, grass or weed pollen. As these types of pollen are released at different times of the year, you may start noticing hay fever symptoms between the beginning of the grass season in spring, and the end of weed pollen releases in autumn.

The most common symptoms affect the eyes, nose and throat. Your eyes may become red, itchy and watery - this is known as allergic conjunctivitis. The NHS website provides a comprehensive list of symptoms, which also include frequent sneezing and a runny or blocked nose. Though hay fever sufferers will be all too aware of these already!

Treating hay fever

While there is no set cure for hay fever, over-the-counter medication can help you control the symptoms. The most common treatments are antihistamines, eye drops, and steroids.

  1. Antihistamines

Antihistamine treatments limit the effect of histamine – the major chemical released in allergic reactions. Available as tablets and sprays, antihistamines are effective in treating itchy and watery eyes, and can also help with nose inflammations. You can use these when the first symptoms of hay fever crop up, or use them preventatively, taking them before heading outdoors when the pollen count (number of pollen grains in one cubic metre of air) is high.

  1. Eye drops

Some eye drops contain an antihistamine, which can effectively relieve red and itchy eyes during hay fever season. The most widely-used products contain the active ingredient sodium cromoglicate, which helps to relieve symptoms. However, Opticians recommend that contact lens wearers avoid this treatment. Soft contact lenses absorb the ingredients in antihistamine eye drops, causing further irritation. If you want to try eye drops, consider using your glasses during the pollen season, and consult your optician if you have any questions.

  1. Steroids

Corticosteroids, available as tablets, sprays or eye drops, have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. They are most commonly used to reduce nose inflammations but can also relieve itchy and watery eyes. According to the Midlands Asthma and Allergy Research Association, corticosteroids are particularly effective if you start using them around two weeks before the pollen season starts.

Make sure you consult your doctor before taking corticosteroids, as they can lead to serious side effects ranging from skin rashes to the development of eye conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts.

Finding relief from hay fever

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Completely avoiding contact with pollen is a challenge, particularly on gloriously warm summer days! However, you can follow the steps below to minimise your exposure.

How to keep hay fever from affecting your eyes

Try to stay indoors at times of the day when the pollen count is at its highest (mid-morning and early evening). Avoid any activities that put you into direct contact with pollen, such as lawn mowing or lying in the grass. Outside, wear sunglasses with close fitting shields at the sides, top and bottom, to keep pollen from getting into your eyes.

It’s also wise to avoid bringing pollen into your house. Try keeping windows and doors closed and leaving your pets outside as much as you can. If you have been sitting outside, change your clothes once at home. Clean your furniture with wet cloths to prevent dust and pollen from spreading. If you’re driving, leave windows closed and pick up a pollen filter for the air vents.

How to cope with hay fever if you wear contacts

To avoid eye irritation, only wear your lenses at times when the pollen count is low and use your glasses when it is at its peak. Try to avoid wearing contacts in hot and dry environments too. Use your glasses instead, to prevent any pollen or dust to get trapped under your lenses. If you are unable to wear glasses, try daily disposable contact lenses, rather than two-weekly or monthly lenses. Replacing your lenses every day will help you prevent any pollen build up. If your eyes become very sore and red, remove your lenses immediately, and contact your optician.

We hope you’ve found these tips helpful! Now go ahead and enjoy the great outdoors.