Pollen allergy – when your eyes itch and burn

Pollen allergy – when your eyes itch and burn

Spring is not an easy time for people with hay fever because the first pollen hardly flies, and the eyes are itching and burning. People who suffer from hay fever often develop conjunctivitis seasonally. The so-called “red eye” is the most common eye disease, which can have many other causes besides allergies . Read here why people with pollen allergies often suffer from conjunctivitis and what helps.

The pollen season

For most people with pollen allergies, the period of suffering begins between February and May. Once spring is on the way, the air burdens some people because the wind transports the pollen from early bloomers such as hazel, birch and alder into our respiratory tract – much to the detriment of people who suffer from hay fever. The pollen season can last well into September, depending on which pollen you are allergic to.


Allergic reaction to pollen: eyes and respiratory tract

When the pollen comes into contact with the mucous membranes in the nose and airways of allergy sufferers, proteins are released in the body that trigger an immune response:

  • The nose runs.
  • You have to sneeze all the time.
  • Breathing is more complex than usual.

But the eyes are also often affected. Because the pollen not only gets into the nose and respiratory tract but also comes into direct contact with the eye’s conjunctiva. However, unlike the nose and bronchi, this is not protected by the mucous membranes, so that the conjunctiva is particularly susceptible to allergic irritation and even allergic conjunctivitis caused by pollen.

Symptoms of irritated eyes in hay fever

Various signs can recognize allergy-related reactions in the eyes. A pollen allergy can cause the following symptoms in the eyes:

  • itchy and burning eyes
  • watery, but at the same time, often dry eyes
  • red and swollen eyes
  • circles under the eyes
  • a foreign body sensation in the eye
  • vision problems
  • sensitivity to light

Frequent accompanying symptoms are sneezing, a stuffy nose or itchy skin.


What helps with acutely irritated eyes?

It is best to try to avoid the allergy triggers – in the case of hay fever, the pollen flying around. But since you can’t just stay indoors for months, there are other ways to relieve the symptoms of irritated eyes.

Cold compresses can help with slightly irritated eyes. Because they constrict the blood vessels dilated by the allergic reaction and thus provide relief. Drops that supply the eye with artificial tears also have a soothing effect.

If you suffer from more irritated eyes, medication can be used to treat them, such as:

  • vasoconstrictive eye drops
  • Eye drops or tablets with antihistamines
  • Eye drops or tablets containing mast cell stabilizers
  • anti-inflammatory eye drops (with cortisone )

Desensitization: permanent help

Desensitization (also hyposensitization ) can weaken and even prevent allergic reactions in the long term. Those affected are usually injected with the allergen to which they are allergic in increasing doses over two to three years. This gradually reduces the hypersensitivity of the immune system to the allergens. Oral therapy in the form of regular tablet intake is now also possible for many allergens.

Allergic conjunctivitis

The cause of conjunctivitis is often an allergy. The so-called rhinoconjunctivitis (allergic conjunctivitis with inflammation of the nasal mucosa ) is caused by hypersensitivity to specific allergens and is usually accompanied by other typical hay fever symptoms.

The symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis are the same as those of an allergic reaction in the eye. In addition, however, the following complaints occur:

  • Secretion of a watery secretion
  • glued eyelids
  • Mucus and secretions on the cornea cloud vision


forms of allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is divided into five medical forms:

  1. Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis
  2. Giant papillary conjunctivitis
  3. Perennial Conjunctivitis
  4. Keratokonjunktivitis vernalis
  5. Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis

While the first three forms usually do not cause any consequential damage to the eye, vernal keratoconjunctivitis or atopic keratoconjunctivitis can damage the cornea, resulting in long-term visual disturbances.

The former form is characterized by very severe symptoms, often accompanied by the formation of so-called giant papillae, i.e. round swellings of the conjunctiva (diameter greater than one millimetre). Atopic keratoconjunctivitis usually also causes eczema on the skin and the formation of viscous fluid in the eyes. The formation of giant papillae is also possible.

In case of severe allergy-related symptoms in the eyes, medical advice should be sought in case of doubt to avoid damage to the cornea.

Differences from normal conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis caused by allergies and external stimuli is not contagious – unlike conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or viruses.

Especially if the symptoms appear in both eyes simultaneously, it is most likely a rhinoconjunctivitis. If the signs only appear in one eye, the possibility of bacterial or viral conjunctivitis is more likely. Even if the symptoms do not improve (depending on the pollen count) or worsen, this can indicate conjunctivitis.

In addition to allergies and environmental irritants such as drafts, bacteria and viruses, the “red eye” can also be caused by injuries or other inflammations in the eye.

In any case, the various possible causes of conjunctivitis should be investigated in order to avoid possible long-term damage to the eye.

Conjunctivitis as a warning sign

The inflamed, red eyes are not always an expression of an allergic reaction or the result of pro-inflammatory environmental stimuli. What appears to be conjunctivitis is often just a symptom of another eye disease.

Injuries to the cornea, iris or sclera, and inflammatory processes in other areas of the eye are often initially perceived by those affected as unpleasant but supposedly harmless conjunctivitis, and the use of medical advice is postponed for the time being.


Serious eye diseases are possible

Eye pain that is felt to be profound, blurred vision or a unilateral change in the pupils can signal that a more serious eye disease is hiding behind the apparent conjunctivitis.

When these warning signs appear at the latest, those affected should consult an ophthalmologist, since the symptoms of severe eye diseases can sometimes not be distinguished from those of harmless conjunctivitis. Irreparable eye damage can often only be avoided if the proper treatment is initiated quickly.

Particular danger comes from the sudden increase in intraocular pressure, the so-called acute glaucoma attack, which can also show symptoms of conjunctivitis and is therefore often underestimated. In such cases, vision can only be saved by immediate ophthalmological treatment.

Seek medical advice in case of conjunctivitis.

Since every conjunctivitis can also hide serious eye diseases, such as iris inflammation or glaucoma, those affected must seek ophthalmological advice. Allergic conjunctivitis can also develop into a more dangerous purulent conjunctivitis when it comes into contact with bacteria. This is characterized by yellow, viscous eye secretion.

In general, any conjunctivitis that goes untreated for a long time or is treated incorrectly due to self-diagnosis can, in the worst case, cause irreparable damage to the eyes. Therefore, any conjunctivitis should be taken seriously.

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