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Are you prepared? Here’s some advice for dry eye sufferers who also experience hay fever

Woman with hayfever surrounded flowers

Countdown to hay fever season

It is that time of year again, the pollen levels are on the increase and you can already feel your eyes starting to itch. Dry eye sufferers have to work at keeping their symptoms under control throughout the year but when entering the hay fever season things can get even more tricky (and itchy!). Suffering from concurrent allergy and dry eye symptoms is certainly a challenge for your eye care practitioner. Hay fever is an allergic reaction to the pollen produced by grasses, trees and weeds. It involves the release of histamine which brings about an inflammatory response which includes making dry eye symptoms worse. A recent study stated that almost half of the UK experience some hay fever symptoms so it stands to reason some of those will be dry eye sufferers too.

Here are some tips from the Dry Eye Zone to help keep your eyes looking and feeling cool...

Antihistamine may not be the answer

For many sufferers of hay fever the first line defence is to take antihistamine treatments such as tablets or nasal sprays. However, antihistamine remedies are known to have a tendency to reduce tear volume and make ocular symptoms such irritation, itching and dryness worse. Instead, when the pollen count is at its’ highest, stay inside and close the windows in your house and car. Simple changes to your routine, like jogging in the evening rather than the morning, could make a real difference.

Use your eye drops more frequently

Your regular eye drops help keep your eyes hydrated and relieve everyday dry eye symptoms such as tired feeling, gritty, sore or red eyes. But when pollen is on the increase use them more often to keep washing away this potential irritant. The Dry Eye Zone would recommend you avoid gels and ointment for this as they are retained in the eye for longer than a less viscous eye drop.

Resist eye rubbing

We know that is far easier said than done, but do your best to resist. When rubbing itchy eyes you actually setting in motion an immune response which involves the release, among other things, of histamine. Histamine, once released, leads to eye redness, tearing, lid swelling, intense itching and... more rubbing! It is easy to see how a vicious cycle of eye rubbing can result.

Stay cool

When it comes to relieving itchy eyes your fridge is your new best friend. Put your eye drops and eye compress in the fridge so when you need them they deliver lovely soothing and cooling relief. Your favourite eye drops will actually feel even better when used chilled, helping reducing eye redness and irritation.

Although there are specialist cooling masks designed to bring hay fever relief you can also use a simple gel pack.

Sunglasses by a pool

Keep your sun glasses on

As well as looking great your sunglasses are a practical help to combat the effects of hay fever. They will help keep pollen from getting into your eyes when you are out and about. For optimised protection a wrap-around style would be best. You also need to consider the quality of the lenses to make sure you are getting the protection from the sun too, the Eye Care Trust provides advice on which are the best glasses to buy, but if in any doubt consult your optician.

Shower before bed

Allergy inducing pollen and spores get on to your skin or hair. Washing them away before bedtime ensures less are transferred to sheets and pillowcases, and helps your eyes stay comfortable overnight.

Remove the pollen if you can

Not letting the allergic reaction start is the key to a good night’s sleep. Commercially available air purifiers might be an investment worth considering for the rooms you spend most time in. There are times when every care is needed, such as in the important run up to exams.

Keep an eye on the pollen count

The Met Office publishes regular pollen count readings and forecasts which let you know when pollen, and the risk of hay fever, is at its highest. Hay fever symptoms usually appear when the pollen count exceeds 50 but this depends on the type of pollen. Not everyone is affected by the same type of pollen and it is useful to note when your symptoms occur as this will give you a clue as to which type of pollen is affecting you most. There are around 30 different types of pollen that cause hay fever, starting with tree pollen from late March to mid-May then followed by grass which actually has two peaks and lasts from mid-May until July, and finally, weed pollen from the end of June to September. To make things even more complicated, it is possible to be allergic to more than one type.

And remember, hay fever can actually cause dry eye

Sometimes this might seem a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. If you have dry eye already then hay fever will almost certainly make it worse but for some people the dry eye symptoms, such as itchy, scratchy and watery eyes, are occurring as a result of the allergy. Either way we hope these tips prove useful in managing the condition and if in doubt always seek the advice of your eye care professional.

If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms then you should ask the advice of your eye care professional. Why not book your next eye examination with an independent optician today.


Met Office. What is the pollen count?

WebMD. Dry Eyes and Allergies: What to Know. Sally Shepard, Medically Reviewed by Dr Whitney Seltman. 5 May 2021

Review of Optometry. August 17, 2009. When Allergy and Dry Eye Collide. Dr Richard B. Mangan. August 17, 2009.

J.A. Davis; G.W. Ousler, III; N.A. Langelier; M.R. Schindelar; R. Abelson; M.B. Abelson. ARVO Annual Meeting Abstract. Seasonal Changes in Dry Eye Symptomatology. May 2006

Kleenex. How to help hay fever symptoms

Mangan, Richard B. "When allergy and dry eye collide: patients who present with concurrent allergy and dry eye can be challenging to treat. Here are several strategies you can use to minimize their symptoms." Review of Optometry, vol. 146, no. 8, 15 Aug. 2009, pp. 49+. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 21 Apr. 2023.

The Eye Care Trust. Buying Sunglasses

Medical News Today. What to know about dry eyes due to allergies. Jenna Fletcher. Medically reviewed by Dr Sara N. Frye — Updated on April 13, 2022

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