Health

Hay fever giving you red, itchy eyes? Here’s what to do about it

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Lauren Geall
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Are you struggling with red, itchy eyes as a result of the high pollen levels at the moment? Here’s how to get this annoying hay fever symptom under control. 

It’s official: hay fever season is well and truly upon us.

If you suffer from it, you won’t need us to tell you – after a couple of days of hot, sunny weather, most places across the UK are being hit with high or very high pollen levels, leaving many dealing with symptoms ranging from a blocked nose to an irritated throat and, often most annoyingly, a case of itchy, red eyes.  

Also known as “allergic conjunctivitis,” red, itchy eyes can be a particularly frustrating symptom to deal with – especially when you’re trying to focus on a screen or page in front of you.  

So, with several months of hay fever season left to endure, here’s how to keep your eye irritation to a minimum and enjoy summer to the full.

Why does hay fever cause eye irritation?

To find out more about the science behind allergic conjunctivitis – and what causes it – Stylist spoke to Dr Magdalena Bejma, GP and founder of the Dr Bejma Clinic.

While getting pollen in your eyes will cause irritation, this isn’t the only reason why you might be suffering from red, itchy eyes during hay fever season, Dr Bejma says. 

“If you suffer from hay fever, your immune system overreacts to pollen – it sees it as a threat –and releases a chemical agent called histamine as a result,” she explains.  

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“This agent will irritate the nerve ending and is responsible for unpleasant symptoms such as itching, swelling, redness and irritated eyes.”

Dr Bejma continues: “When trying to fight off irritants, your blood vessels work extra hard to protect your eyes. This can therefore lead to redness (from over dilating) and often swelling.” 

How to treat hay fever-induced red itchy eyes

Although hay fever cannot be prevented, there are a number of things you can do to ease your symptoms.

1. Protect your eyes outside

Because one of the reasons hay fever can cause red, itchy eyes is through pollen landing in the eyes, protecting them is a great place to start.

Wear a pair of wrap-around sunglasses when you go outside to protect your eyes from pollen flying in from all angles. 

A woman wearing sunglasses
Wearing sunglasses while outside is a great way to stop pollen getting into your eyes.

2. Use a cold compress

If your eyes are feeling particularly red and sore, Dr Bejma recommends using a cold compress to “calm and soothe” the irritation.

An easy way to do this is to take a handful of ice cubes, place them in a plastic bag and wrap them in a washcloth, before placing it across your eyes. 

3. Pick up some antihistamines

Because antihistamine medications block the effects of histamine, they’re one of the most effective ways to minimise the symptoms of hay fever.

You can get antihistamines in a variety of different forms, including creams, nasal sprays, tablets and eye drops, the latter of which is most commonly recommended for eye irritation, as it gets to work at the source of the problem. 

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“There are a variety of over-the-counter antihistamines available,” Dr Bejma explains. “In some cases, they may not be strong enough for certain individuals – if this happens, your GP can prescribe stronger antihistamine medications for you.”

It’s worth noting that antihistamines do not work for around 10% of people, so if you’re finding them to be ineffective, that might be why. 

4. Switch to disposable contact lenses

The surface of contact lenses can attract allergens in the air, so it’s best to wear glasses if you can to minimise the potential irritation.

However, if you haven’t got any glasses to hand, you can also switch to disposable contact lenses so that the allergens don’t have the time to build up on the lens.

A woman putting contact lenses in
Using disposable contact lenses stops pollen from building up and getting in your eyes.

5. Get rid of excess pollen with an eyewash

When the eyes of hay fever sufferers interact with pollen, your eyes water to try and wash the pollen out.

You can help this process along by using an eyewash to ensure no pollen is left lingering in your eyes after you’ve been outside, helping to reduce potential irritation. 

6. Seek medical advice

If your symptoms worsen significantly or you’re finding it hard to cope, seek medical advice from your GP. 

They’re able to advise you on the best course of action – and may even provide you with prescription-only antihistamines or steroids. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.