A watercolour sketch of an eye

Are you suffering from hidden eye allergies?

Laura Bond
Authored by Laura Bond
Posted: Wednesday, June 5, 2024 - 13:54

When you think of allergies that can affect the eyes the first one that probably jumps to mind is pollen, which is what causes hay fever.

Here, GoldenEye - a range of pharmacy drops and ointments to treat conjunctivitis, styes and blepharitis - takes a look at pollen and other more hidden allergens that you might just not think about let alone think may cause eye allergies.

Allergens – Inside And Outside The Home

Wherever we walk we are faced with different types of allergens, be it from inside the home or outside on the street.

Pharmacist Sultan Dajani, advisor to GoldenEye® says: “When allergens affect the eyes, the body releases histamine and blood vessels in the conjunctiva (the lining of the eye) enlarge and swell. This will leave eyes looking puffy and red, feeling itchy and they may become more watery.

“Medically, this type of eye allergic reaction is known as allergic conjunctivitis. It’s important to treat and manage these eye symptoms and not simply overlook them. Eye conditions to be aware of are conjunctivitis, styes and blepharitis.”

Some of the causes are:


“Hay fever is the most common allergy in the UK, affecting millions throughout the summer and beyond into early autumn,” notes Sultan.

Sultan adds: “It is usually worse between late March and the end of September when pollen counts are highest and linger. However, the pollen season is getting longer.”

Pollen counts are influenced by several factors including climate change. Climate change causes increased temperatures and CO2 emissions, boosting plant growth and pollination.

As a result, the hay fever season is starting earlier and lasting longer. A study found the pollen season increased by 20 days and the pollen concentration by 21% between 1990 and 2018. Sufferers may be allergic to tree, grass or weed pollen – or a combination of all these pollens.

Dust And Dust Mites

“Dust mites are probably the most common trigger of year-round allergies as well as challenges like  asthma,” says Sultan.

Each dust mite only measures about ¼ to 1/3 of a millimetre long. They are too small to see with your eyes alone, but under a microscope, they look like white bugs with eight legs.

Sultan notes further: “There are at least 13 different species of dust mites. They feed mainly on the tiny flakes of human skin that people shed each day. Approximately 10,000,000 particles are shed from the skin of a healthy person each day. These flakes work their way deep into the inner layers of furniture, carpets, bedding, and even toys, where the mites thrive.

“Dust mites like temperatures of 20-25 degrees Celsius and humidity levels of 70-80 per cent. Most homes are perfect for them, so when we spend more time indoors in the autumn and winter, we have much more contact with them.

“Those who are not allergic to dust mites, are completely oblivious to their presence. However, for those who are allergic, more time indoors may mean more time sniffing, sneezing, itching and generally feeling under the weather.”


The World Health Organisation has said that air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health and addressing air pollution is key to protecting public health.

When walking outside we are confronted with pollution from road traffic and industry, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

These outdoor allergens can leave the eyes itchy, watery, gritty and red. In addition, it can leave the eye sensitive to other elements such as wind and sunlight.


Our cuddly, furry friends could be another cause of eye irritants, with pet dander a key reason for pet-related allergic eye conditions. “Like pollen, this results in the body releasing histamine to fight the allergen, which then can end up in eyes feeling red and itchy as well as a runny nose and sneezing,” says Sultan.


Mould can be lurking in our homes, such as in the corners of walls, sheds, fridges or on window frames. Mould, already well-known as a key trigger for asthma, can also trigger eye-related symptoms.

Sultan notes further: “When mould releases spores into the air and they come into contact with us either on the skin or by entering the nose they cause allergic reactions which can result in itchy eyes.”


Smoking itself comes with a range of severe health warnings, including age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndromes for eye.

But actual smoke from tobacco products and items such as wood fires can also have impact on the eyes – when the small smoke particles can cover the surface of the eye, irritating the eye.

Indeed, a study found ‘compelling correlational evidence for eye irritation, conjunctivitis, and dry eye symptoms-supporting that second hand smoke exposure was positively associated with inflammatory and allergic changes in the eyes’.

A Closer Look At Eye Conditions

Styes: A stye is a bacterial infection of either an eyelash follicle or a gland near the eyelashes. It causes a small, painful lump on or inside the eyelid or around the eye.

The skin around the stye may be swollen and red and the stye may be filled with yellow pus. Styes are common and they can take up to two weeks to clear.

According to one study, styes accounted for 4% of more than 4 million emergency department attendances for eye conditions across all age groups.

Styes rarely a sign of anything serious, but can be painful, unsightly, and generally unpleasant until they heal.

Sultan says: “Allergies are known risk factors for styes and people tend to get more styes during allergy season. With the experience of itchy eye symptoms, it can feel impossible not to rub them.”

Conjunctivitis: Sometimes known as pinkeye, the meaning of conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin skin on the inside of the eyelid.

Sultan adds: “Conjunctivitis is often caused by infection from a virus or bacteria or an allergy. When it happens, the blood vessels of the sclera (the white of the eye) become dilated, giving usthat red-eyed appearance. The eyes may also feel gritty, itchy, sticky, burning or be watering more than usual.”

Blepharitis: Blepharitis is a common eye condition, estimated to account for around 5% of eye-health-related GP visits.

This condition causes inflammation of the eyelids. This can either be anterior blepharitis, inflammation at the base of the eyelid which can be caused by bacteria like staphylococci, or seborrhoeic dermatitis, or posterior blepharitis, an inflammation of the meibomian glands, which help to produce tears.

Symptoms may include soreness, itching, a gritty feeling, flakes, or crusts around the roots of the eyelashes and eyelashes sticking together in the morning when you wake up. 




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