The arrival of beautiful weather signals trees to begin pollinating in earnest. This process causes many people to experience a variety of symptoms such as a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, ear fullness and popping, watery and itchy eyes and puffy eyelids. If you feel the onset of any of these, chances are you have allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever. But don’t be fooled by this name: you don’t have to be exposed to hay to experience symptoms, and fever is usually not one of them!
WHAT IS AN ALLERGY?
An allergy is the body’s abnormal reaction to foreign substances. This reaction occurs when the immune system misidentifies an otherwise harmless substance as an invader and treats it like a dangerous virus. It mobilizes its defensive forces, called mast cells, which release a substance called histamine. This substance is responsible for the symptoms that indicate the allergy.
There are two forms of allergic rhinitis:
- Seasonal: Symptoms typically occur in spring, summer and early fall, and are usually caused by allergens such as airborne mold spores or pollens from grass, trees and weeds
- Perennial: Symptoms are experienced year-round and generally caused by dust mites, pet hair or dander, cockroaches or mold
Some allergens are extremely dangerous, but if you’re a seasonal allergic rhinitis sufferer, they are relatively harmless. You’re also in good company: according to Asthma Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians suffers from allergic rhinitis. But many people don’t even know they’re suffering from allergies — they think they’re dealing with a cold instead.
The intensity of allergy symptoms vary from one person to another, and in some cases, they can affect the quality of your life by causing fatigue, irritability, concentration problems and sleeping troubles. The best way to prevent allergic rhinitis is to avoid allergens by tweaking your habits.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS FOR AIRBORNE ALLERGY-SUFFERERS:
- Keep windows and doors closed during high-pollen periods • Use an air conditioner in indoor cycle with a filter to cool, filter and dehumidify the air
- Refrain from outdoor activities between 5:00 and 10:00 am, as pollen counts are highest during this period
- After outside exposure, shower to remove pollen from your hair and skin
- Do not dry laundry on an outdoor clothesline as pollen can cling to the fibres in your clothes
- Stay indoors during wet or windy weather
- Wear sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes
- Do not keep too many house plants as damp soil can promote mold and mildew growth
- Keep car windows closed when driving
- Ask your partner, friend or housemate to rake the leaves and cut the grass, as these tasks stir up pollen and different types of mold
- Enclose mattresses, box springs and pillows in zippered, dustproof covers; do not use feather pillows or duvets
- Vacuum on a weekly basis, and if you have allergies, try to avoid doing the chore yourself
There is no cure for allergic rhinitis, and it’s impossible to totally avoid contact with allergens, but treatment options are available to help control symptoms:
- Oral antihistamines provide quick relief of symptoms by lessening the effects of histamine, one of the chemicals released by the body during an allergic reaction
- Decongestant sprays help relieve a stuffy nose
- Inhaled steroids (nasal sprays) decrease the damage done by inflammatory cells brought to the nasal lining by the allergic reaction
Available both over-the-counter and by prescription, these treatments can help ease annoying symptoms like a runny nose and itchy eyes. However, if these remedies prove insufficient, it’s important to contact your doctor for further investigation. He or she may suggest desensitization — also called immunotherapy — to reduce the human body’s sensitivity to the substance responsible for the allergy using injections containing a small dose of allergen.
Are your allergy symptoms affecting your quality of life and not relieved by over-the-counter medications? It’s time to seek help! Communicate instantly with Canadian healthcare professionals by text and video chat with Medisys On-Demand, our 24/7 virtual care platform.