Mr Venki Sundaram
Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
MD FRCOphth MRCOphth BMBCh BSc

Eye Care During Hay Fever Season

yellow flowers in field

Summer should be a time to enjoy the great outdoors, but if you’re affected by hay fever, it’s not always the carefree season you might wish for. Hay fever symptoms such as dry or itchy eyes can make summertime difficult. Follow our eye care tips to help alleviate any irritation you may be experiencing.   

What is hay fever and who gets it? 

Hay fever is an allergic response to pollen, also known as allergic rhinitis or allergic conjunctivitis. The process begins with the body’s immune system identifying something harmless (such as pollen in the air) as a threat. When it comes into contact with this harmless substance, it tries to fight off the threat by producing histamine, this then causes hay fever symptoms. 

People who get hay fever are more likely to experience symptoms in the summer months, when there’s more pollen being produced. Hay fever can affect anyone, however, it’s more common in people who have asthma or other allergies.  

What are the symptoms of hay fever? 

Hay fever symptoms are similar to those of a cold. You may experience a runny nose or be coughing and sneezing more than usual (allergic rhinitis). However, hay fever is also a common eye complaint (allergic conjunctivitis), as many hay fever symptoms can affect the eyes as well. They may be dry, watery, itchy or sore immediately after exposure to pollen or other allergens. 

What treatments are available? 

Fortunately, there are a range of treatments available over the counter. The main hay fever treatments for people with allergic conjunctivitis are: 

  • Oral antihistamines – These are allergy medications that counter the effect of the histamine produced by your body and are taken by mouth in tablet form. Taking antihistamines before coming into contact with allergens (for example, before you go outside) can help reduce the symptoms of hay fever. 
  • Antihistamine eye drops – Administering antihistamine eye drops can reduce inflammation in the eyes, helping to alleviate the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. 

Tips to reduce your symptoms this summer 

It’s not possible to prevent hay fever altogether, but there are things you can do to reduce symptoms. Ideally, the best way to do this is to avoid contact with pollen altogether, but this could prove impractical. Here are some alternative steps you can take;

  • Check the pollen count each day, try to stay indoors when it’s high. 
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses when going outside, to prevent pollen from coming into contact with your eyes.
  • Keep windows shut when you’re indoors, to stop pollen from getting into your house.
  • Don’t touch your eyes and wash your hands regularly to prevent the transfer of pollen from your hands to your eyes.
  • Don’t dry your clothes outside during peak pollen season.
  • If your eyes are itchy, take a break from wearing contact lenses and/or makeup.
  • Avoid activities such as cutting the grass or gardening.

If your symptoms are getting worse or not improving after taking antihistamines, seek advice from your GP or optician.