Spring (and arguably summer) has officially sprung, with parts of the UK reaching a sizzling 28 degrees celsius this week. But as excited as many of us are about a warm few months of bike rides, picnics and BBQs, the season also brings something many unlucky individuals are all too familiar with. The dreaded summer allergy, hay fever.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is a common summer allergy to pollen, reacting when it comes into contact with the cells that line the eyes, nose and mouth. Pollen is a fine powder from plants and there are lots of different tyres of it. Grass pollen seems to be the most lethal to those with hay fever, with 90% of sufferers allergic to it.
When somebody with hay fever comes into contact with pollen, their body will start overreacting and producing allergic antibodies to deter it. Your body reacts in a similar way to other allergens, such as mould, and house dust mites. The chemicals released by your immune system are sent out to protect you from what has mistakenly been perceived as an infection, It is these chemicals that cause the infamous symptoms of hay fever.
How does this summer allergy affect your eyes?
Your eyes are one of the most common areas affected by hay fever, causing discomfort in the following ways:
One of the most common symptoms of hay fever are itchy eyes, which is a reaction to them being irritated. Remind yourself of how sore and irritated your eyes become when you get shampoo in your eye. Unpleasant, right? Those that suffer from hay fever can experience this kind of discomfort and irritation in their eyes.
When our eyes are irritated, they become red. The redness comes from the swelling blood vessels on the white outer surface of the eyes and is essentially the inflammatory response to your eye whilst it’s irritated.
You can see how hay fever becomes a vicious cycle when it comes to your eyes.
Whilst it’s tempting to rub your eyes, this is likely to cause more redness, as it increases the irritating and can damage other blood vessels.
Watery eyes from this summer allergy is not only an annoyance, but can reduce your vision, as the extra water produced distorts the way the light falls onto the surface of your eye, which then makes your eyesight blurry. Whilst your body is producing these tears in an attempt to flush out the pollen irritant, it makes it frustrating to get on with your day-to-day tasks.
To make matters worse, once your watery tears start to try, the tears thicken and become sticky, making your eyesight even more blurred.
Puffy and swollen eyes
In some cases, hay fever can cause the eyes to become sore, swollen and puffed up. This happens when your blood vessels become inflamed and dilate, which then brings more fluid into the tissues affected.
Puffy eyes can last for a couple of hours until the irritation has reduced and your blood vessels restore themselves to their normal size.
Treating sore and irritated eyes
The impact of hay fever on our eyes can be extremely frustrating. But every cloud has a silver lining and the good news is that it’s extremely unlikely that any long term damage will occur to your eyes, and these symptoms will eventually pass.
Some ways to treat and reduce irritated eyes from hay fever include:
- Antihistamine drops or tablets - these can be prescribed by your doctor and will help with itchy and watery eyes, as well as sneezing. You can get them in the form of eye drops or oral tablets. If this doesn’t work, your GP may prescribe steroids
- Wear wraparound sunglasses - this will help stop the pollen getting into your eyes
- Shower and change into fresh clothes after you’ve been outside - this will wash away any pollen that is still on you and reduce irritation as a result
- Get treatment sooner rather than later - starting treatment early can keep your hay fever mild, as the more sensitive your body becomes the worse your symptoms to this summer allergy could get as the hot months continue
- Bathe your eyes regularly in cold water - this will help soothe your eyes and reduce irritation
- Try and avoid wearing contact lenses in hot, dry and dusty environments - contact lenses are likely to worsen the irritation. If you wear them, try and put sunglasses on top for a form of protection
Get your eyes protected as early as possible and take all the precautions to ensure you can enjoy the summer with healthy, happy vision.