Spring is already here, and the change of season brings with it the promise of better weather and new beginnings. Still, the new plants that appear every spring can trigger seasonal eye allergies that can cause congestion, headaches, itching, and swelling of the eyes. As much as we love the sun, the spring temperatures, and to go outside, for many people the arrival of warmer days in spring means fighting allergies. Watery eyes and redness are just two of the symptoms of eye allergies. For many people, these symptoms are very uncomfortable, and so they need to treat them. You can ease such symptoms using common allergy treatments or natural remedies, depending on how bad your condition is. In this article, you will learn more about what allergies are and how they can be treated.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is a hypersensitivity to certain foreign substances that are usually harmless to the body1 . When a person is allergic to a substance, the immune system recognizes it as a danger to the body and attacks it. External substances that can cause an allergic response are called allergens. Some foods and medicines, pollen, house dust, etc. are considered allergens.
Upon contact with such allergens, the immune system produces protective molecules called antibodies (immunoglobulin E). These antibodies cause certain cells to secrete various chemicals (including histamine) that can reach different organs through the blood stream and cause particular symptoms. The organs most commonly affected by allergies are the eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, and digestive system.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology reports that allergies are the sixth on the list of leading causes of chronic illness in the United States2. An allergic reaction is manifested as pollen fever in about 7.8 percent of people over the age of 183, and this condition is present in 10%–30% of the global population4. Pollen is carried by the wind, and comes into contact with the eyes and skin, or can be inhaled. The pollen can originate from trees, grasses, weeds, or mold.
The eyes react to allergens that irritate them, causing a reaction. Eye allergies5 can also be caused by certain cosmetics or eye drops, including artificial dry-eye drops that contain preservatives. Allergies to bee stings or other insect bites do not generally affect the eyes as intensely as pollen, mold, and tick allergies.
Conjunctivitis is one of the most common and most commonly treated eye diseases in children and adults. "Red eye6," as it is often called, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the transparent membrane that covers the inside of the eyelids and whites of the eye and maintains eye moisture. Viruses, bacteria, irritants (shampoos, dust, smoke, pool chlorine, etc.), or various allergens (pollen, mold spores, etc.) can cause conjunctivitis. Red eye caused by viruses or bacteria can be easily transmitted from person to person but does not represent a serious health risk if diagnosed early, as long as the allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. Therefore, it is important to find out as soon as possible whether conjunctivitis is caused by allergies or infection, as each of these conditions has a different treatment.
What are the symptoms of allergic red eye?
Moderate redness of the eye accompanied by intense itching and the need to rub the eyes are the most common symptoms. However, you may experience additional symptoms7, including:
- redness on the white or the inside of the lids;
- increased watering of the eyes;
- swelling of the lids;
- itchiness of the eyes (often also on the nose) and sneezing;
- highlighted/dark eyelids;
- sneezing that often lasts for days;
- a runny nose (when the mucus in the nose is clear and watery, unlike the yellowish color in colds).
These symptoms are usually present in both eyes, though not to the same extent. There is no rule for when allergies might first appear during your life. Some people may consume certain foods for a long time and show no symptoms for years, and then suddenly become allergic to the same food they have been normally consuming. Allergies can also occur from an early age, at the earliest around the third year of life, and sometimes even earlier.
How is seasonal eye allergy treated?
The simplest, free and effective treatment8 for eye allergy would be to avoid contact with those allergens to which you have a proven sensitivity. However, in many cases, this is practically impossible (e.g. in the case of and allergy to house dust).
Red eye caused by an allergy may disappear completely if the allergy is treated with medication/drops or if the allergen is removed. Therefore, the first line of treatment is to remove the allergen, which may include, for example, wearing a hat outside or washing your face often.
Eye allergies usually occur at the same time each year, in the spring. With the onset of summer, it calms down. People usually know when the allergy is starting and may be able to prevent its occurrence in time. There are also year-round allergies, such as house dust mites, but they are less common and even less common in the eyes.
A natural approach to allergies
In addition to the common medicines, there are other, natural remedies to treat eye allergies or natural immunotherapy that can alleviate or completely eliminate a spring allergy. Recommendations generally refer to strengthening immunity, consuming food rich in vitamin C, and consuming natural compounds that act as antihistamines. For example, consuming a teaspoon of honey daily for a few weeks before the plants start flowering can significantly reduce allergies.
Daily rinsing of the nasal cavities with non-addictive natural nasal sprays will clean the allergens that accumulate on the hairs and mucus in the nose and not allow them to enter the body. Weak immunity is also one of the main factors contributing to the occurrence of allergies, so it is very important to enhance your immune system. There are a number of natural immune boosters, such as black seed oil, grapefruit seed oil, propolis, echinacea, etc. Other alternatives that can be used are as follows:
Chamomile has an anti-inflammatory effect and also helps with dry eyes. Hold cooled chamomile tea bags for 3–5 minutes on the eyes and repeat the procedure several times a day.
Nettle has a soothing effect on irritated eyes and sneezing. To relieve symptoms for a longer period, take nettle tablets or dried leaf tea.
Mint is a great remedy for clogged airways. One inhalation of 10 minutes during the day is enough to feel better.
Thyme tea helps treat coughs and choking caused by allergies, and also soothes sore throats.
Honey has a soothing effect over a few minutes for coughing and clogged airways. A spoonful of honey in a hot cup of tea can help you more than you may have thought.
Ginger relieves a sore throat and is especially effective in combination with honey. Make fresh ginger tea by placing 5 grams of freshly grated ginger in boiling water and boiling it for ten minutes. Then strain and add a tablespoon of honey.
Practical tips for how to reduce the symptoms of eye allergies
To deal with seasonal allergies, sometimes it is enough to know when these allergens are most often in the air. However, you can’t always assess, for example, the amount of pollen in the air, so it is important to take some precautions or steps that will ease your symptoms, such as:
- Do not touch or rub your eyes.
- Wash your hands often9.
- Wash towels frequently with hot water and detergent to reduce allergens.
- Do not use somebody else’s makeup.
- Avoid makeup around an infected area.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before applying medication to the eyes.
- Use eyeglasses instead of contact lenses to reduce irritation.
- If you experience vision changes, foreign body sensations in the eye, or acute pain, make an appointment with your eye doctor.
Final thoughtsSometimes, it is difficult to distinguish between allergic and infectious conjunctivitis, especially during the pollen-fever season, when red and watery eyes are common symptoms. If the redness is expressed only in one eye, then the chances of allergic conjunctivitis are small. It is important to emphasize the need to see your ophthalmologist immediately if you feel pain in the eyes, if you have a pronounced sensitivity to light, or if visual acuity is reduced, because these are not symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. Sometimes it is easy to find out what is causing an eye allergy, such as if symptoms occur when you go out on a windy day when there are high levels of pollen in the air, or when your pet climbs onto your lap. If the cause of eye allergies is not completely clear, there are simple allergy tests you can perform at your ophthalmologist.
1. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Allergies: Overview. [Updated 2020 Apr 23]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK447112/
2. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. (2018). Allergy Facts. http://acaai.org/news/facts-statistics/allergies
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8. Frings, A., Geerling, G., & Schargus, M. (2017). Red Eye: A Guide for Non-specialists. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 114(17), 302–312. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2017.0302
9. Rauch K. Home Remedies for Bloodshot Eyes. May 07, 2021. American Academy of ophthalmology