Itchy eyes – again?

Hay fever horrors

Rising sea levels, horrendous storms: climate change is hammering the world – yeah right. You can believe it or not, but one thing that about 20% of the New Zealand population can attest to is that the increase in temperatures means longer growing seasons, and higher pollen counts for allergy-causing plants, such as trees, grass, outdoor moulds and weeds.

Hay fever brings with it red, watery, itchy eyes.

Pollen power

itchy red eyesClimate change could contribute to longer – and harsher – hay fever seasons.

Pollen season, which typically runs from late winter until the end of summer, is becoming longer around the country. Studies suggest that when exposed to warmer temperatures and higher levels of CO2, plants grow more vigorously and produce more pollen than they otherwise would.

From October to late December, grass species around the New Zealand flower. From October to late December, around 20 species of grass will be flowering. When combined with our windy climate, flowering grasses are a difficult allergen to avoid. Even if you’re living in the middle of the city, you’ll still be susceptible as the greatest recorded spread for pollen was 4500 kilometres from a source.

Colds and red, itchy eyes?

Hay fever and colds can be easy to confuse because they both involve rhinitis, irritation and inflammation of the nasal cavity.

Both hay fever and the common cold causes sneezing, runny or stuffy nose and coughing. However, there are some key differences in symptoms – notably, itchy eyes and throat and the colour of your nasal discharge.

Facial itchiness – especially around the eyes or throat – is a symptom typically only seen with hay fever.

Help with symptoms

Many patients usually visit the local pharmacy to pick up an oral antihistamine for hay fever relief. Antihistamines treat hay fever by blocking the action of the chemical histamine, which the body releases when it thinks it’s under attack from an allergen. This stops the symptoms of the allergic reaction.

Antihistamines can clear up symptoms such as runny noses and sneezing, but they can make itchy eyes worse.

Why? A side effect of antihistamines is that they have a drying effect on the eyes. Reduced tears make it more difficult to flush out allergens on the eyes and they remain on the eye longer, making things worse.

Have you ever wondered what’s actually causing your eyes to react?

Have hay fever and itchy eyes?

Here’s what to do:

1. Avoid pollen

* Pollen is often worse early in the morning, so avoid outdoors if you can.
* Stay indoors on windy days and shut windows to avoid pollen blowing in.
* Avoid activities outdoors on grass, especially in early summer.
* Wear wraparound sunglasses and a hat to prevent pollen getting onto your face and eyes.
* Avoid drying clothes outdoors.
* Shower when you get indoors to remove pollen from your skin and hair.
* Be prepared, check Metservice’s pollen forecast

2. Deal to the symptoms

* Flush itchy eyes with artificial tears. Lubricating eye drops can remove allergens.
* Place cold compresses on your eyes, for example a cold wet towel, this can help relieve the itchiness.
* Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this will only make your eyes worse and can potentially cause long-term damage.

3. Get treatments

* See your optometrist for a personalised treatment.
* Eye drops can treat red, watery, itchy eyes. An antihistamine-mast cell stabiliser eye drop like Patanol can be prescribed to help relieve symptoms if discomfort persists.

If you’re suffering from red, watery, itchy eyes thanks to hay fever, be sure to book an appointment with John O’Connor Optometrists so we can help. Email our Auckland Optometrists or phone our Newmarket Optometrist on 09 522 1283 or our Henderson Optometrist on 09 836 1731.