Itchy skin that breaks out in hives is not hayfever, though there are hives that involve a similar histamine reaction. For more information, read about Urticaria here.
Whilst nasal congestion is the symptom that sufferers most often consider “bothersome”, recent research1 has revealed that itchy eyes is the symptom people most often label “extremely bothersome”, over and above all other allergic rhinitis symptoms.
What causes itchy eyes?
In the case of allergies and hayfever, itchy eyes are caused by the production of Immunoglobin E (IgE) which latches onto and punctures the surface of your mast cells (and other cells called basophils) which allows the release of histamine and other substances. Fluid builds up, some muscles are made to contract, and suffering commences.
This is exactly the same thing that happens in the chest of someone with asthma, in the skin of the eczema sufferer, and in the nose of the hayfever sufferer.
Antihistamine eye drops are a common, and effective treatment for itchy allergy eyes and antihistamine nasal sprays have also shown to be effective at treating allergy eye symptoms in addition to your nasal symptoms (if present).
For bothersome itchy eyes, it’s best to consult your doctor, because the possible causes and triggers of itchy eyes could be manifold. It may indeed be allergic conjunctivitis together with hayfever, but it may not.
Is only ONE of your eyes itching badly? This could be periorbital cellulitis2, a serious infection that can spread to the eye socket. Periorbital cellulitis can occur in adults but is most common in young children. Another good reason why medical attention should be sought immediately when a bothersome symptom presents itself.
You might have viral conjunctivitis, you might have something called atopic kerato-conjunctivitis, or your itchy eyes could even be the result of dermatitis, dry eye syndrome, gland dysfunction, blepharitis, a common cold etc.
What might relieve itchy hayfever eyes?
Eye drops – If your doctor confirms your itchy eyes are related to your hayfever (ie the itching is caused by mast-cell degranulation and histamine release which could be caused by pollen, dust, mould, animal dander, smoke or chemicals) then you may be advised to purchase antihistamine eye drops available over-the-counter in most pharmacies, some of which commence working just a few minutes after application.
Eye rinses – The use of cold saline (salt water) solution to flush the eyes can be effective at providing some relief, as well as killing bacteria.
Herbal tea – Some hayfever sufferers report mild relief after drinking multiple cups of nettle tea throughout the day.
Other hayfever herbal hits include elderflower, eyebright (euphrasia), feverfew, goldenrod, plantain and sage. For more information see our section on Herbs & Essential Oils here.
Cold applications – the old home remedy method of soaking a cloth in ice cold water and pressing softly on/around the eyes can provide some relief, and even cold chamomile teabags or cucumber slices when placed on the eyes for 5 minutes at a time may help relieve some of the discomfort.
Itchy Nose / Throat / Face
If you notice itchy hives (Urticaria) on or around the facial or upper body area medical attention should be sought immediately. Although this is not hayfever it is a somewhat similar allergic reaction as histamine is released by the body leading to inflammation.
It can be serious particularly if the throat is affected. For more information, read about more about Urticaria here.
What causes the hayfever itchy nose/throat?
In the case of hayfever, the same as mentioned above in relation to itchy eyes – an immune response by the body causing the release of substance like histamine which results in irritation, inflammation etc.
Keep in mind too that an itchy nose is the first sign of a common cold!
Other causes of an itchy nose or throat (aside from hayfever) include insect stings, food and drink allergies, and a lack of humidity such as dry conditions in the workplace or home.
What might relieve an itchy hayfever nose/throat?
Antihistamine – Once your doctor has assessed you and your symptoms, they may recommend a fast-acting new-generation antihistamine nasal spray, perhaps a nasal ointment containing antihistamine, or antihistamine tablets.
Corticosteroids – Depending on your hayfever corticosteroid nasal sprays may be required, though it’s best to start taking this particular medication some time before your hayfever starts, as it takes some time to start working fully.
Decongestants – Sometimes doctors have their patients use a vasoconstrictor nasal spray. However such sprays should not be used for more than a couple of days, as what’s known as ‘rebound congestion’ can occur whereby the nose could become as congested, or possibly more congested than before the use of the decongestant.
Other – A cold cloth to the forehead is reported by some people to provide some relief from an itchy nose, as is a hot foot bath, a nasal lavage (cleanse) and acupuncture.
One homeopathic remedy involves the flowering plant Wyethia3 which is considered effective at relieving an itchy soft palate/throat, itching nose symptoms and dryness of nose, mouth and throat.
Herbs such as goldenseal are reported to have some anti-itch capabilities. For more info on natural remedies see our section on Herbs & Oils.
For more information on treatment and prevention of hayfever symptoms, see the relevant sections on Sprays & Tablets and Drugs & Diet, and for more preventative information to get on top of your exposure to the triggers of hayfever see our pages on Causes & Culprits and Habits and ‘Must Haves’.
- Allergies in Asia Pacific, allergiesinasiapacific.com, accessed July 2014.
- Medline Plus, Periorbital Cellulitis, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000976.htm, accessed July 2014
- Webhomeopath, Wyethia helenioides, http://www.webhomeopath.com/homeopathy/homeopathic-remedies/homeopathy-remedy-Wyethia_Helenioides.html, accessed July 2014