Understanding Allergies

What is an allergy?

Itchy, scratchy allergy eyes can come out of nowhere. One minute, you’re enjoying your al fresco lunch … the next, your eyes are streaming because a dog has walked past, turning your sandwich into a blur.

Meanwhile, a dust mite allergy can make it feel as though even your home is against you.

Allergies are very common – one in four people in the UK are affected at some point in their lives. While allergies to pets and dust are among the most common types of allergic reactions people have in the UK.

By understanding what triggers it, you’ll be able to manage allergies more effectively, so you can live your life without anxiety about your allergy.

When you’re allergic to something, it means your body overreacts when exposed to a harmless substance – it could be a certain type of food, material or medication.

Don’t beat yourself up about it – your body thinks it’s doing the right thing when it identifies this ‘invader’, releasing a chemical called histamine to help to try to get rid of it. It’s this release of histamine, among other mediators, which causes allergy symptoms.

There are many types of allergies and the substances that trigger a reaction are called allergens.

What is an airborne allergy?

Also known as respiratory allergies, the airborne kind includes hayfever (an allergy to pollen), pet allergies, dust allergies and mould allergies. When allergens in the air come into contact with your eyes, nose and mouth, that’s enough to trigger your symptoms.

Allergy triggers

Common airborne allergy triggers include:

  • Dust mites (tiny spider-like creatures found in house dust)
  • Pets and other animal dander (which includes fur, skin particles and feathers)
  • Mould
  • Pollen (hayfever)

Symptoms of an allergy

Hayfever is a type of allergy, which means hayfever and allergy symptoms can be very similar and may include:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • itchy, red or watery eyes
  • itchy nose and throat
  • congestion

It can be difficult to determine whether you have hayfever or another airborne allergy. Some people may even have both!

The main difference is in the timing: the pollen hayfever season runs through the spring and summer months, while other airborne allergies don’t have a season, running all year round.

Some allergies may display other symptoms too, for example some people with pet allergies may experience a skin reaction if a slobbery dog gets a bit too friendly.

If you’re not sure what you’re allergic to, take our quiz and visit your GP for an allergy test to find out your trigger.

Who is affected by allergies?

Both children and adults

Children are particularly affected by allergies but they can grow out of an allergy as they get older – although there is no cure. And it’s possible for us to develop allergies as adults, even to things we’ve never reacted to before.

People with asthma

In some people, allergies can trigger asthma symptoms. This is sometimes known as ‘allergic asthma’, which means you are hyper-sensitive to certain allergens and they make your asthma worse. In these cases, managing your allergies effectively is very important.

Allergic asthma is just one type of asthma and not everyone will be affected in this way.

Effective treatment for allergy relief

We know allergies can be a real nuisance, but with the right remedies, you can keep symptoms in check and take back control.

Eye drops

Some eye drops can provide fast-acting relief from allergies. Opticrom® Allergy Eye Drops start to work in just two minutes, to help soothe itchy, red and watery eyes.

Its active ingredient, sodium cromoglicate, inhibits the release of histamine and other chemicals to relieve allergy symptoms.

It means there’s no more excuses for avoiding the dusting or not walking the dog – you can help to keep allergy eyes at bay with just a couple of drops in each eye.


Often available in tablet form, some antihistamines can be taken before you’re exposed to an allergen, and others only when you feel the start of an attack.

This helps you to plan ahead, so you can take the tablets before meeting up with your ‘cat-mad’ friend to put a stop to your regular sneezing sessions whenever you see them.


Decongestant nasal sprays, tablets and liquids can help ease congestion symptoms caused by allergies, so you can breathe more easily through your sniffles.


Corticosteroid nasal sprays are anti-inflammatories, which help to reduce irritation from hayfever symptoms.

Severe allergy reactions

In very sensitive individuals, allergies can trigger severe asthma attacks which may, in some cases, be life threatening.

Yet, in most instances, the allergies above occur in mild form and won’t lead to anaphylactic shock, a rare but potentially life-threatening reaction to an allergen.

If you find your allergy is difficult to control, visit your GP who will be able to help with other treatments.

How hayfever and allergies affect our eyes

You’ll know that feeling when hayfever or allergies attack; eyes can become itchy, red and watery, making it a struggle to go about your normal day.

Even simple tasks such as driving to work, concentrating on a computer screen, or putting on make-up can be frustrating.

Unfortunately, irritated eyes are one of the major symptoms of hayfever and other airborne allergies. But remedies that work to soothe your eyes, help you take back control of your condition. So, next time you get watery-eyed meeting your best friend’s new puppy it’s through tears of joy and not a result of your pet allergy.

Hayfever, allergies and your eyes

Your doctor would call hayfever eyes, ‘allergic conjunctivitis’. When the pollen, dust or pet hair you’re allergic to comes into contact with the eye it can inflame the part called the conjunctiva – the sensitive membrane covering the eyeball and inner surface of the eye. If you have hayfever or an allergy, your body will be much more sensitive to these particles and react more severely than other people.

But don’t panic, this form of conjunctivitis is different from viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, which is infectious and can be passed on from one person to another.

Allergic conjunctivitis can’t be passed on to others because other people cannot catch your allergy.

Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis explained

If your eyes are affected by hayfever or an allergy, the symptoms will be entirely personal to you.

While your friend may experience itchy peepers, you may major in the watery kind. This is because your body’s working to defend your eyes, triggering different reactions in different people.

Red, itchy eyes

Your body responds to pollen and other allergy-inducing substances (called allergens) by producing a chemical called histamine. This initiates an inflammatory response leading to the inflammation of the membrane of the eye including redness, itching and puffiness around the eye.

The inflammation is designed to protect us from foreign particles which our bodies detect as harmful. But it’s futile in the case of hayfever because pollen isn’t harmful.

Watery eyes

The influx of histamine sends a message to your eyes to wash out the irritant by producing excess tears, which leads to streaming, watery eyes.

Survival tips to reduce hayfever and allergy eyes

You don’t need to just get through allergy attacks in silence. Here are some ways to find hayfever and allergy relief.

Be prepared

Limiting your exposure to allergens doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the things you love. You may just need to tweak a few things to help you survive without the sniffles.

For hayfever, check the pollen count daily – generally, the higher the pollen count, the more intense your hayfever symptoms are likely to be. Keep an eye on the pollen count so you can be prepared with your Opticrom Hayfever Eye Drops when your eyes start to water.

Try wrap-around sunglasses – large sunglasses which offer protection around the front and side of the eyes may help reduce hayfever and allergy eye symptoms because it’s more difficult for pollen and other allergens to reach the eye. Plus, you’ll look every inch the movie star!

Know your allergen – if you know which type of pollen is making your eyes water, you can check when it is at its peak. Use the Opticrom hayfever calendar to find out, so you can be ready for hayfever symptoms.

And did you know dust mite allergies tend to get worse in winter? This is because we tend to spend more time indoors, with the windows closed and central heating on. Try using ‘mite proof’ bedding and pillows to reduce exposure to mites.

Keep some tissues, eye drops and antihistamines at the ready for when you need some eye allergy relief.

Swap your contact lenses for glasses

When your eyes are itchy, contact lenses may heighten the feeling and rubbing your eyes can sometimes seem like the only way to relieve the gritty sensation.

But beware! Rubbing can aggravate hayfever eyes because allergens can settle on your contact lenses, intensifying the symptoms.

At times like these, it’s often best to revert to wearing your glasses to give your eyes a break and a barrier of protection against pollen, pet dander and dust.

It’s important to note that you will need to remove your contact lenses before using Opticrom eye drops. Check our FAQs to find out when you can wear your contact lenses again.

Clean your face and eyes before bedtime

If you have hayfever and ventured into the outside world, you will have probably picked up pollen on your skin and clothes. The same goes for those of you with an allergy who have risked being up close and personal with your trigger allergen.

To help ease symptoms, it’s a good idea to wash your face and cleanse your eyes, lashes and eyelids before you go to bed. This can help reduce uncomfortable eye allergy symptoms and help you get a good night’s sleep.

If you wear contact lenses, you should remove them before bed and wash them thoroughly to remove any allergens. Be sure to clean your glasses and sunglasses regularly too.

How Opticrom® eye drops work*

*This section refers to Opticrom Hayfever Eyedrops and Opticrom Allergy Eyedrops only.

When hayfever or an allergy strikes, your eyes can be the first to flare up. We know red, itchy and watery eyes can be extremely irritating, slowing you down and stopping you from being your best self.

Opticrom eye drops have been scientifically formulated to provide fast-acting, soothing relief for when the sensitive eye area is affected by hayfever or allergies.

What is Opticrom?

Opticrom creates eye drops to help those experiencing irritating eye symptoms which arise due to allergy and hayfever. With its 35-year heritage**, Opticrom is a trusted eye care expert, providing welcome relief to eyes and it is available nationwide.

The science behind Opticrom eye drops

Opticrom Hayfever and Allergy eye drops contain the active ingredient sodium cromoglicate. It works to inhibit the release of histamine – a chemical your body produces during an allergic reaction.

The sodium cromoglicate stabilises the mast cells responsible for releasing histamine, preventing them from producing the chemical.

**based on first registration of Opticrom Allergy 2% w/v Eye Drops in 1985.

Why does the body release histamine in an allergic reaction?

Sometimes your immune system overreacts to harmless substances that come into contact with your body (called allergens), releasing a chemical called histamine as part of the response to try to get rid of it. It’s this release of histamine which causes allergy symptoms.

Pollen is an allergen that causes hayfever, while dust mites (microscopic spider-like pests found in house dust) and pet dander (animal fur, skin and feathers) are the allergens which trigger dust mite allergies and pet allergies respectively.

If you’re sensitive to an allergen, cells in the lining of your nose and membrane of eyes release histamine alongside other chemicals and these are what cause your uncomfortable symptoms.

Opticrom’s active ingredient works fast

Although there is no cure for hayfever or allergy eyes, Opticrom eye drops provide fast-acting targeted relief, starting to work in just two minutes.

The active ingredient in Opticrom eye drops, sodium cromoglicate, inhibits the release of histamine and other chemicals produced by the body during an allergic reaction. Just one or two drops in each eye relieves and soothes irritated red, itchy and watery eyes.

Opticrom eye drops are easy to apply. Check with your pharmacist or GP to find out whether you can use them alongside other allergy and hayfever medication.

Opticrom eye drops are available nationwide

You can find Opticrom Allergy Eye Drops, Opticrom Hayfever Eye Drops and Opticrom Allergy Single Dose Eye Drops in major pharmacies and supermarkets nationwide for convenient, on-the-go relief. Opticrom Allergy Eye Drops are also available online.

Tips on coping with allergies

We know that allergies can get right up your nose – and in your eyes! Persistent allergies can get you down and leave you feeling left out.

On the contrary, it’s estimated that 21 million people in the UK live with an allergic disease, which includes food allergies, as well as pet, dust and mould allergies.

But allergies don’t need to hold you back! With just a few small tweaks to your home and your routine, you can swap your allergy sniffles to smug smiles.

Coping with pet allergy

The saying goes that dogs are man’s best friend but when a whiff of fur could send you into an allergy tailspin, it can be a struggle.

To help you cope with pet allergies, try out these tips.

  • Restrict pet exposure
    It may sound like an obvious one but when you have a pet you love very much you might feel bad about limiting their access around the house. But to keep your allergies under wraps, you do need to create a safe space where your body doesn’t have to constantly fight off pet dander (pet fur and skin).

    Try to keep your pet outside as much as possible and when you’re inside, limit them to just part of the house. And never let them in the bedrooms, so you can ensure you get a good night’s sleep!
  • Keep your distance
    It’s easy to get carried away with pets, showing affection by cuddling them and letting them lick you. Try to keep close contact to a minimum, otherwise this will trigger allergy symptoms in a big way.

    You can show your affection by taking your dog out for ‘walkies’ and using toys to play with your cat, giving you more distance from allergens.
  • Regularly groom pets
    Animals moult daily, so grooming can help remove hair in a controlled way to help reduce the amount shed around the house. Make sure you enlist help from a family member, as grooming a pet is not a good idea for someone with a pet allergy.
  • Clean your home regularly
    Pet dander gets everywhere, so it’s important to vacuum and dust with a wet cloth regularly, to capture as much of it from the air as possible.

    Vacuums fitted with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter are the most effective at removing allergens. It’s harder to keep under control if you have carpets and lots of soft furnishings in your home, so you might want to consider opting for hard floors and blinds instead.
  • Keep an allergy survival kit on you
    Maybe you don’t have your own pet but find yourself dreading the visits to a friend who does. It’s best to come clean to your friend and let them know about your allergy and its severity, so they can ensure their pet is kept at a distance.

    And don’t forget to take your allergy survival kit along with you. Opticrom® Allergy Eye Drops start to work in just two minutes to soothe red, itchy and watery eyes. Check with your GP or pharmacist to find out whether they can be used at the same time as your antihistamine tablets.

Coping with a dust mite allergy

When you’re allergic to dust mites – creatures so small they’re microscopic – it can feel like a never-ending battle. Invisible to the naked eye, dust mites are masters of disguise, making avoidance near impossible.

By being consistent with your cleaning habits, you can make a significant difference to your allergy symptoms.

  • Dust, dust and dust some more
    If you’ve ever wondered where dust actually comes from, it’s made up from dead skin – a dust mite’s favourite meal – as well as hair, fabric fibres and other small particles.

    To combat the small stuff, it’s important to vacuum your home frequently to remove it from carpets and soft furnishings. Use a damp cloth to wipe dust off other surfaces to stop it dispersing into the air. You may want to buy an ioniser air purifier to capture dust and other home allergy triggers.
  • Use dust mite proof bedding
    Dust mites like to hide in bedding, so switch your bed covers to the special allergy-free kind to provide an extra line of defence against the little critters. It’s important to wash bedding regularly at hot temperatures to keep linen dust mite free.
  • Be extra vigilant in the winter
    Dust mite numbers tend to peak during winter. They thrive in warm, damp homes so when you switch on your central heating, you’re creating dust mite paradise.

    To lower humidity, you may want to use a dehumidifier, and run the central heating a few degrees lower to put a stop to a dust mite party. A deioniser can help to reduce dust mites.

Coping with a mould allergy

Moulds are a type of fungus, and their tiny seeds – known as spores – can trigger allergies. This means allergy symptoms may strike both indoors and outdoors, leaving you exposed to the allergen all year around.

Moulds grow best in warm, damp and humid conditions, so keeping your home dry and mould-free can help to prevent any mould mishaps.

  • Keep your bathroom well-ventilated
    Bathrooms are wet and damp places, and so it doesn’t take much for mould to grow on a variety of surfaces.

    Ensure you keep your bathroom well-ventilated to dry it out after baths and showers and check it regularly for mould. If you spot any, get help to treat it right away.
  • Reduce humidity in your home
    You’ll want to keep you home as dry as possible to keep mould from growing. Open windows regularly to let fresh air circulate, or you could invest in a dehumidifier to reduce the amount of moisture in the air at home.
  • Regularly clean your fridge
    Fridges full of food can easily harbour mould, so ensure you frequently clear it out and dispose of any food which has started to turn.
  • Be prepared for damp environments
    This goes for inside and outside. Mould allergy symptoms might be triggered in wooded or leafy areas, particularly after a spell of rain (although rain can often help to reduce other airborne allergens). Keep your Opticrom® eye drops handy to relieve eye allergy symptoms.