As the weather warms, Mother Nature unleashes a storm of airborne allergens that cause teary eyes and stuffy noses in people who suffer from seasonal allergies, and there are a lot of us who do. In fact, nearly one-quarter of Canadians experience seasonal allergies. Specific allergy inducers vary from region to region and season to season, but tree and weed pollens are among the major offenders. Although not all of them are connected to a particular season, the ten most common allergy triggers across Canada are:
• air pollution
• dust mites (which thrive in humid weather)
• insect bites
When pollen or other triggers are released into the air, we can inhale them, and they can travel into our nasal passages. When we are allergic to a substance we’ve breathed in, our immune system identifies it as an invader and sends out a chemical called histamine to attack it. Our reaction to the histamine is one of the causes of allergy symptoms.
We can begin to develop allergy symptoms at any time of life – in childhood, during our teen years, or even in adulthood. These symptom may include:
• Eyes that are puffy, red or watery
• Itchy eyes, nose or ears
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Frequent sneezing
• Dark circles under the eyes
Some people describe seasonal allergies as feeling like you have a bad cold that never goes away.
Treating Seasonal Allergies
It can be very difficult to eliminate the symptoms of seasonal allergies, but there are steps you can take to manage them. There are both prescription and over-the-counter medicines that can ease the symptoms. Examples include:
• Antihistamines are available as oral medicines, nasal sprays, and eye drops that help relieve sneezing, itching, runny nose, and watery eyes.
• Decongestants can provide temporary relief from nasal stuffiness and are available in oral dosage forms, nasal sprays, and eye drops.
• Combination products contain both an antihistamine and a decongestant to provide broader relief of symptoms.
• Cromolyn sodium, which can also ease symptoms, comes in various dosage forms, including nasal spray and eye drops.
• Nasal corticosteroids, a type of nasal spray, reduce inflammation in the nose and block allergic reactions.
• Leukotriene receptor antagonists block the action of chemicals other than histamine that play a role in allergic reactions. These must be taken every day to prevent symptoms before they occur.
• Allergy shots are injections given over a period of time to reduce, or sometimes even eliminate, allergy attacks. Each injection contains a tiny amount of a particular allergen that triggers your allergic reaction. The shot contains just enough of the allergen to stimulate your immune system, but not enough to cause a full reaction. Over time, the amount of the allergen in the shot is increased, and this helps your body get used to the allergen, making you less sensitive to it and less likely to have a reaction to it.
• Allergen tablets are now available. You can take them to increase your tolerance to grass and ragweed pollens. They are taken for about 12 weeks before grass pollen season starts and continued throughout the season.
• Nasal irrigation: In addition to these medications, some people find relief from saline nasal irrigation, which can relive nasal congestion by flushing mucus and allergens from the nose.
Reducing your exposure to allergens can also make it easier to get through allergy season. Here are some helpful tips:
• Avoid outdoor activity early in the morning when pollen counts are at their highest.
• Close doors and windows at night and at any other time when the pollen count is high.
• Don’t hang laundry outside to dry; pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
• When you come in from being outdoors, remove your clothes and shower to rinse the pollen from your skin and hair.
• Use the air conditioner in your home and car rather than opening the windows.
• Try wearing a mask if you must do chores outside.
If you have questions about allergy treatments or if you need help selecting a product to relieve your symptoms, your London Drugs pharmacists are always happy to help you.