Allergies · Overview

Hay fever from an ophthalmological perspective

Allergy sufferers react to pollen with symptoms such as itching and mucus at the entry points to our respiratory organ. Yet the eye is also affected.


What exactly is hay fever?

Our bodies, and in particular our respiratory organs and mucous membranes, come into contact with substances occurring naturally in the air. All plants reproduce by releasing pollen as part of their natural fertilization process. Since every plant releases pollen at a particular time, so-called pollen calendars are available to enable suffers to identify which forms of pollen place particular strain on their bodies. Under certain circumstances, these pollen particles cause a sensitive reaction which is not tolerated by our immune system and therefore prompts an immune response. Our mast cells clear away the foreign particles previously detected by immunoglobulin E. In doing so, these cells release the neurotransmitter histamine and the immune response is set in motion.


The symptoms:

Itching, oozing and mucus at the entry points to our respiratory organ, i.e. in the nose, pharynx and throat right down as far as the paranasal sinuses and bronchial tubes. The eyes play a particular role here because their outer mucous membrane is a magnet for pollen. This is also an area where immune responses regularly occur. In addition, tear fluid containing pollen is flushed into the throat via the tear ducts, where it causes further irritation.


Who is affected?Heuschnupfen

Switzerland has 1.2 million hay fever suffers, both male and female, a number which is rising as a result of increased concentrations of dust particles in industrialized countries.


Treatment – where to apply?

Treatment should always be sensibly applied (i.e. from mild symptom levels) to the organ that is producing the reaction: for example, local treatment with suitable drops for eyes, appropriate sprays for the nose and so on. If the immune reaction is so extreme that all of the organs mentioned above are reacting and the sufferer’s general condition is being affected, systematic treatment should also be selectively offered in the form of tablets or shot injections. Long-term desensitization treatments are then generally the method of choice.


How do treatments work on the eyes?

Acute mast-cell stabilizing drops or antihistamine drops are used on the eyes. For the former, it is important to be aware that these only work after a certain period of build-up and have a short retention time, meaning that they have to be applied to the eyes at least four times a day. If one application is forgotten, the effect is lost and the user will have to wait through another build-up phase. For this reason, antihistamine eye drops are easier to use. Their long retention time means that they only have to be applied once a day. Antihistamine drops’ well-known side-effect of drowsiness has been biochemically remedied as far as possible. However, the treatment offered by these drops is likely to be less effective than that provided by mast-cell stabilizing drops. For those experiencing severe eye strain, cortisone drops are unavoidable. The rare side-effects of induced cataracts and glaucoma must be discussed before beginning treatment.