According to Asthma Canada, one in five Canadians suffer from respiratory allergies. The most common is allergic rhinitis (AR), or hay fever.
Hay fever can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, debilitating. It can cause itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing and sometimes asthma.
“People will develop allergy symptoms at certain times of year when certain allergens are out,” said Dr. Susan Waserman, a clinician-scientist at McMaster University.
Hence, why these are commonly referred to as “seasonal allergies.”
“Tree pollen occurs in March and April, grass in May, June and July, and ragweed in mid-August, until the first frost,” said Waserman.
An allergic reaction is caused by these allergens coming in contact with mast cells, which are primarily located in the lining of the nose, lungs, skin and intestinal tract.
In response, your body produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) as a means of protection. These are attached to your mast cells.
The IgE antibodies cause the release of several chemicals — including histamine — into the bloodstream.
“Histamine is mainly responsible for those symptoms,” Waserman told Global News.
There are a number of different ways to treat seasonal allergies. What works for you will depend on a number of things — namely, what you’re allergic to and the severity of your reactions.
It could be as simple as closing a window
The first step to ridding yourself of allergy symptoms is to remove the known irritants from your environment.
According to Waserman, this can mean keeping windows and doors closed in the house and car.
“If you have a window air conditioner, keep the vent closed to the outside,” Waserman said.
If you like to garden or do other things outdoors, try to find a meteorologist or weather service that reports on pollen levels. Only do your outdoor activities when counts are lower.
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You should also try to avoid cutting grass if you are allergic to grass pollen or outdoor mold.
If dust mites are the culprit, try to keep the humidity levels low in your home. “Keep home humidity between 30 to 50 per cent, ” said Waserman.
A device called a hygrometre can measure indoor humidity.
Next stop: your local pharmacy
Over-the-counter medicine is your first line of defence, according to Dr. Anne Ellis.
She is an allergist and a professor at Queen’s University. She’s also an executive member of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI).
Consulting with your pharmacist and explaining your symptoms can help he or she determine which might be the most effective. Cetirizine or Reactine are common recommendations.
“We do especially recommend people avoid the sedating antihistamines, like Benadryl, because they have a worse side effects profile,” said Ellis.
Consult your primary care provider
“If those don’t work, we recommend seeing your family physician for some very safe and effective prescription options,” said Ellis.
“We have lots of new effective antihistamines available by prescription which helps offset some of the out-of-pocket costs for patients.”
These can include eye drops and nasal sprays.
If your symptoms are severe and none of these medications have worked, you likely need to see an allergist.
“Don’t suffer in silence,” said Ellis. “Do reach out to your primary care provider and don’t be afraid to ask for a referral to an allergist for definitive relief.”
Immunotherapy can be delivered in two ways: through a series of injections, or via tablets. It depends on what you’re allergic to.
“We have tables that can be effective for grass, ragweed and dust mite allergies currently.”
Both forms contain small amounts of allergens and are administered on a regular schedule in an attempt to make your body immune to the irritants which cause your symptoms.
Immunotherapy can be administered either year-round or just before your allergy season starts.
Immunotherapy requires supervision by a health-care professional.
Don’t wait to ask for help
“Things can progress and get worse year after year,” warned Ellis.
Sometimes, there might be a lower-pollen season, so you might have a year where you have fewer symptoms or no symptoms at all. But that usually doesn’t mean they’re gone completely.
“Typically, these are allergies that don’t go away and that’s why it can be helpful to look out for more definitive options that can provide long-lasting relief — like immunotherapy,” said Ellis.
Both Waserman and Ellis recommend that you consult your physician to determine which treatment is best for you.