Hay fever, the most dreaded words a seasonal allergy sufferer can hear. Why must this normally happen after a long cold winter when we hibernate in our homes avoiding the -30 degree temperatures? It’s cruel, especially when the inviting warm sun seems to call your name to go outside for a spring hike, regardless of what you know may happen when you go outside anyway. But you risk it, and it seems alright. Then suddenly, it hits you like accidentally putting soap in your eye. The itching, the eye watering, and the sneezing, it’s almost unbearable! You run back home and turn on the radio to help you feel better, but the song Allergies by Paul Simon starts to play (great tune, I recommend listening to it). You feel defeated, and you think maybe tomorrow will be a better day.
During spring, when most plants first start growing, they release vast amounts of pollen into the air. This is the culprit that elicits our typical hay fever response. Our eyes, just like any other part of our body, is also susceptible to this allergen. When pollen enters our eye it binds to our mast cells, and initiates a chain of reactions that release histamine – the godfather of “allergic conjunctivitis” (the fancy name for the ocular related symptoms you experience). Of course, our bodies can produce a similar reaction to many different allergens, but during spring pollen is a big player.
There are some things you can try to fight back!
Our first instinct to itchiness is to rub our eyes. This is a logical move, however, rubbing will only increase the amount of histamine released by your mast cells, which will only make things worse! Try sitting on your hands while reciting the alphabet backwards, anything to keep you from that “soothing” rub which will only lead to heightened allergic response. Rubbing your eyes can also cause scratches on the cornea and will only increase discomfort.
Try laying a cold compress or towel on your eyes. Much like when we use ice to reduce the inflammation when we bruise, a cold compress can have similar effects when treating allergic conjunctivitis. You can also try using preservative free artificial tears or eye drops to wash out some of the pollen and increase comfort.
Contact lens wearers need to be especially careful when experiencing allergic conjunctivitis! Some allergens can adhere to the surface of the contact lens, extending the period of discomfort. It may be worthwhile to consider stopping lens wear until your symptoms have ceased, or trying daily lenses to minimize allergen exposure to your contact lens.
And lastly, ask your optometrist! Optometrists can recommend pharmaceuticals to help your eyes feel better. Also, there are many different causes of red and itchy eyes, an ocular examination is advised if you feel your symptoms are changing or getting worse.
Please feel free contact us about any queries, until then enjoy the spring weather!