Spring is in the air and that can often only mean one thing for the UK’s 13 million hay fever sufferers – red, watery, itchy irritated and dry eyes.
And with people in the UK expected to spend more time outdoors than ever over the next few months, this Allergy Awareness Week (20th to 25th April 2021), eye experts from Essilor have some top tips on how to alleviate allergens playing havoc with your eyes.
Andy Hepworth, leading vision specialist from Essilor, explains: “Hay fever is a seasonal form of allergic rhinitis which affects one in five people in the UK. It is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen from grass, trees and weeds during the spring and summer months. The result is itchiness, irritation, watery eyes and redness. There are also people who are affected by perennial rhinitis who suffer from an allergic reaction to allergens such as dust and mould all year round – this advice can be applied to them too.
“Itchy eyes occur due to irritation from pollen or another allergen landing on or near your eye. Once your eyes are itchy, they tend to become red due to an inflammatory response trying to fight off the irritant. Redness can also occur from rubbing your eyes, which will only increase the irritation. You may also experience watery eyes – this is the body’s way of trying to flush out the irritant, by producing excess tears.
“Swollen or puffiness is also another common and unwanted side effect in hay fever and allergy sufferers. This is because inflammation brings more fluid into the tissue areas affected.”
Four Tips For Reducing Allergens Affecting Eyes
“Many allergy sufferers will take medication to keep their symptoms under control, however there are a number of extra things that you can do to reduce the impact of allergens on eyes.
Avoid itchy, dry eyes this spring – Wash allergens away
The allergens that make our eyes itchy and sore are impossible to see – it’s therefore easy for them to play havoc with us in the home and garden as we are constantly surrounded by invisible allergy causing particles. One of the best ways to keep on top of allergies is to wash your bedding, pillows, duvets, towels, clothes, etc regularly – especially during the summer months. You should also wash your face and hair at the end of the day too and save your pyjamas for when you go to bed. This will avoid them picking up any particles which could affect your eyes whilst you sleep.
Avoid itchy, dry eyes this spring – Swap contact lenses for glasses on high pollen count days – and try wrap around sunglasses
Unfortunately for contact lens wearers, the lens surface can be a magnet for airborne allergens and many lens wearers may find that their eyes are especially affected by hay fever. The best way to overcome this is to wear glasses and/or prescription sunglasses on the days when the pollen count is particularly high. Wrap around sunglasses can also provide additional protection, to help keep allergens away from your eyes.
Avoid itchy, dry eyes this spring – Cold compress
A cold compress will provide some welcome relief for eyes that are itchy and irritated. It will also help to reduce swelling. Just soak a face cloth or towel in cold water and leave it in the fridge to cool down. Then sit back and relax whilst it gets to work. You can also buy specialist reusable eye masks that are designed to go in the fridge before use.
Avoid itchy, dry eyes this spring – Visit your optician
If you are eyes are red, itchy and painful for a long period of time then you really should visit your optician for a check up. Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition that can be caused by an allergen such as pollen setting off a reaction that affects the conjunctiva of the eye. This is the clear, thin layer that covers the front surface of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids. The conjunctiva can become inflamed and irritated. Most of the time it will clear up on its own in a couple of weeks but you may need some eye drops or antibiotics if it is not shifting or getting worse. Your optician or GP can diagnose conjunctivitis and provide the best advise for clearing it up.
Dr Hepworth adds: “Whilst spring and summer is the ideal time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, it does bring with it short term eye issues particularly for allergy sufferers that can cause considerable discomfort. Hopefully these tips can provide some relief this hay fever season, allowing as many people as possible to enjoy the warmer, longer days. A final sensible point is to ensure whilst outdoors you afford your eyes protection from UV, by using Glasses, sunglasses or UV protecting Contact Lenses”
And did you know that there are other ways that your glasses can protect your eyes? New research has suggested that people who wear glasses could be up to three times less likely to contract coronavirus.
Dr Andy Hepworth explains more: “There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the role of glasses in helping to prevent the transmission of Covid-19. The main argument behind the theory is because spectacle wearers tend to touch and rub their eyes significantly less often than non-glasses wearers, and it is thought that the virus can enter the body through the eyes, as well as the more commonly known ways including through the nose and mouth.
“This follows other studies that have shown that lenses within spectacle frames can provide an additional barrier against airborne respiratory droplets.
“Similarly, a number of health professionals have also recommended that people who wear contact lenses should consider switching to glasses to prevent them touching their eyes as often during the pandemic. Of course, hand hygiene for everyone is crucial during this time with frequent hand washing, wearing masks and following social distancing/stay at home advice as the best line of defence in reducing the spread of infection.”