Dr David Ng shares things that may help soothe those sore eyes and fight off spring itchiness.

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Hay fever plagues around one in seven Australians, which means that while most people celebrate spring, millions of people affected by allergic conjunctivitis are suffering.

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, affects the nasal area. The same process can also affect the eyes, and this is called allergic conjunctivitis. The emergence of pollen from trees and plants can result in itchy, red, watering and sore eyes.

While pollen is the main culprit, there are other substances that can cause allergic conjunctivitis, including animal fur, dust mites and make-up. Even some eye drops can cause a reaction.

These allergens stimulate the release of histamines, causing swelling of blood vessels, swelling and itchiness, as well as increased secretion of mucous and tears. Histamine release is the body’s way of preparing its defences against an attack from a foreign substance. Unfortunately in the case of allergies, while these substances are foreign, they pose no real risk.

While the birds and bees really do spread pollen, other plants rely on the wind too. Unfortunately, it can blow long distances and cause allergies in people who live a long way from the source. For some people this can be a chronic issue. Allergy season can last several months.

"Resist the temptation to rub your eyes, as it only aggravates the problem – it causes further release of histamines."

10 ways to beat sore, allergy affected eyes

1. Oral antihistamines

These come in tablet form and can be obtained over the counter – ask your pharmacist for advice or see your doctor. A word of warning – some alcoholic beverages contain histamines so you might want to avoid drinking alcohol during the worst of the hay fever season.

2. Keep the eye drops handy

Lubricating drops alone might not be enough – it’s likely you’ll need medicated decongestant and/or antihistamine drops. Again you can find these at your local chemist, but if they give you no relief, you may need a prescription for stronger drops. You shouldn’t use decongestant eye drops for prolonged periods as they can actually increase the redness.

3. Watch the pollen count

In spring, some weather reports include the daily pollen count. It’s also easy to find a local pollen report online or on a smartphone app. Usually the pollen count is at its highest between 8-10am and 5-7pm, so if you have the option of varying your travel times, consider changing your commuting schedule.

4. Clean the house

Any allergens such as dust, animal hair and dust mites can make your seasonal problem worse, so thoroughly clean and vacuum every room, wash your sheets and consider buying a new pillow. Keep surfaces dust-free at all times.

"A dab of petroleum jelly on the nostril can catch the pollen before it attaches to the inside of your nose."

5. Make a ‘barrier’

A dab of petroleum jelly on the nostril can catch the pollen before it attaches to the inside of your nose.

6. Get healthy

The better your general health, the easier it is to fight off the effects of allergies. Exercise and eat lots of leafy greens, brightly coloured vegetables and food with omega 3 oils such as salmon. Get a good night’s sleep and try to avoid stress.

7. Invest in an air purifier

A quality air purifier can remove up to 99% of airborne allergens from your home.

8. Cold compresses

Use a face washer moistened by rinsing under cold water, then rung out so that it is damp and not dripping, to comfort your red, burning eyes.

9. Don’t rub

It’s important to resist the temptation – rubbing your eyes only aggravates the problem. It causes further release of histamines!

10. Wash it away

Dust and pollen gathers in your hair and on your clothes. Wash your hair before you go to bed, make sure you shower immediately after playing outdoor sports and regularly hydrate your eyes with artificial teardrops.

If pain persists

Most eye problems related to spring can be treated at home using over the counter medications obtained from the chemist and a bit of common sense. If problems continue, it’s best to pay a visit to your optometrist or GP or if all else fails, see your ophthalmologist.

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