Spring has sprung and so did allergies…

Hay fever… Something that every Capetonian knows very well! Too well… Unfortunately, we see an increase in allergens in early spring and suddenly our allergies flare up. It’s not just in the beautiful Western Cape, it’s getting worse globally! Research from the UK Allergy Association shows there’s an increase in allergies worldwide and 30-35% of people suffer from allergies.

So, what causes it? Allergies are a reaction to irritants such as dust, pollen, mould and pet hair. Eye allergies can also be caused by preservatives in contact lens solutions, cosmetics and eye drops. Food allergies and allergic reactions to insect bites typically do not affect the eyes as severely as airborne allergens do.

Symptoms of eye allergies

We are all familiar with the symptoms – the sneezing, the wheezing. Runny nose, runny eyes. Ocular allergies present with itchy and swollen eyelids, tearing and a slightly red eye. In severe cases, allergies can lead to eye infections such as conjunctivitis (pink eyes) which presents with very red eyes, burning, light sensitivity and a discharge.

Treatment for allergies

Avoid allergens

Stop and DON’T smell the flowers. The best approach to controlling eye allergies is to avoid exposure to allergens. The easiest way to accomplish this, is to wear spectacles or big sunglasses. And who doesn’t like a big pair of Jacky O inspired sunnies??

Avoid Contact lenses

Allergens can accumulate on the surface of contact lenses. Consider wearing your spectacles during allergy season or switch to daily disposable contact lenses.



The allergy response in the body starts with a release of histamines from the mast cells. Antihistamines reduce allergic reactions by blocking the functioning of histamine in the body. Antihistamines are available in tablets or nasal sprays. Ask your pharmacist to assist with the best medication for your needs.

Mast cell stabilizers

Mast cell stabilizers “seals” the mast cell, preventing them from releasing histamine and thus preventing the allergy response. Mast cell stabilizers are thus preventative and it’s best to start these medications before the allergy season starts.

Eyedrops for ocular allergies

Allergy eyedrops

There are various types of eyedrops available for eye allergies. If your allergy is mild, an over-the-counter eye drop may work very well for you. The best eyedrops to use is a combination eyedrop that includes antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers.  Contact Belia or Elizma for recommendations on combination eyedrops.

REMEMBER – please do not use eyedrops for allergies with your contact lenses. Allow at least 30 minutes for the eyedrop to drain, before inserting contact lenses.

Artificial tears

Artificial tears can offer symptomatic relief by flushing away allergens and soothing an irritated eye. There are artificial tears that can be used whilst wearing contact lenses. Please check the packaging or ask Belia or Elizma for advice.

Contact lenses and allergies

Contact lens wearers can experience an increase in ocular itching or contact lens awareness during allergy season. This is due to a build-up of protein and allergens on the contact lens surface. Ocular allergies also cause swelling of the mucous layer that lines the inside of the eyelids, leading to swollen follicles forming on the inside of the eyelid. On each blink, these follicles can dislodge the contact lens, creating a feeling of lens movement on the eye.

Treating the systemic and ocular allergies with medication and eye drops, will reduce discomfort of the contact lens. If discomfort persists, switching to daily disposable contact lenses might offer more relief.

Daily disposable contact lenses (dailies) are lenses that you only use for one day and then you throw the lenses away. The lenses are much thinner and thus more comfortable, but the big advantage is that there is no prolonged protein or allergen build-up on the lens.

Please contact Elizma or Belia to order a free trial set of dailies.