The main symptoms of hayfever are red, itchy and watery eyes, blurred vision, a runny nose, sneezing and congestion of the sinuses. Hayfever is a misnomer – the name was coined in the 19th century, when it was widely believed that the smell of hay in the summer “irritated the body”. It was another 30 years before the true cause of hayfever was discovered – pollen. The term “pollen fever” never caught on!
What is Hayfever?
Hayfever is an allergic reaction to a variety of substances. Most commonly pollen but also dust mites or tiny flecks of saliva or fur from a variety of animals like cats, dogs and birds. When our body detects a substance such as these that it considers a threat to our health (an Antigen) it produces a substance called Histamine as the body’s defense against this “threat”. Hayfever symtoms are the result.
What can we do to treat, manage or prevent the symptoms of Hayfever?
There are three main things that can be done to treat, manage and prevent hayfever.
- Mast Cell Stabliser
- A cold pack
As the Histamines are the cause of the symptoms we use ANTI-histamines to neutralise the effect of the offending allergen/substance. By decreasing the active histamine we can relieve the symptoms. There are various types of antihistamines that can be taken orally (tablets) or applied topically (drops). Often a combination of these is the best way to get relief from the symptoms.
Another useful treatment for the eyes is the use of a Mast Cell Stabiliser (in drop form). Mast cells are the main immune cells in our body that are responsible for producing histamine. Mast Cell Stabilisers inhibit their activity and, as such, reduce symptoms. They can be used as a preventer every day in season or every day(in more severe cases).
Swelling of the eyelids is common in Hayfever. A cold pack applied to the area provides relief and helps to reduce the swelling.
Rubbing the eyes can feel great, but as soon as you stop rubbing the mast cells release MORE histamines, so eye rubbing is to be avoided at all costs. Use drops, tablets and cold packs to avoid rubbing! So… don’t rub your eyes!
Some common myths about hayfever
- You grow out of it – only in about 20% of cases
- A teaspoon of honey helps – there is no truth in this at all
- The effects of antihistamines decreases over time – also untrue
- Short-haired pets don’t cause hayfever – sorry, but it’s the TYPE of hair that is the issue
Tips to manage your “allergy eyes” What should I do?
- Seek professional advice – see a doctor, optometrist or pharmacist for advice before trying any treatments
- Once diagnosed, follow professional advice regarding how to use antihistamines, mast cell stabilisers and cold packs for relief – don’t rub your eyes!
By Ian Clemens, Optometrist and Director at Kosmac & Clemens Optometrists