Itchy eyes or a runny nose? How to treat common allergy symptoms

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Allergy season is in full swing, and for people with allergies, that can mean weeks to months of painful, irritating symptoms.

From a stuffy, runny nose to red, itchy eyes, allergies can make it difficult to perform even the simplest of tasks.

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Thankfully, experts say there are easy ways to alleviate symptoms so you can enjoy the warmer weather in peace.

Dr. Jessica Grayson, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Alabama Birmingham, this starts with reducing the “exposure load.”

Prevent exposure

“If you’re going to be doing yard work (like mowing grass), then wearing a face covering like a bandana or mask to prevent allergens from entering the nose is the first line of defense,” Grayson said.

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This should be even easier in the time of COVID-19, when most people are wearing masks when they go out in public.

“With a mask… you’ll have much less exposure to spores, mold spores or pollen that go into the nose,” said Dr. Jason Ohayon of Hamilton Allergy.

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Wearing PPE gear is considered especially important if you’re gardening, because “mold spores are in the soil and (you’re) moving them around,” Ohayon said.

Grayson also recommends using “large volume saline irrigation” when you come inside to “irrigate the allergic particles from the nose to prevent exuberant response.”

It can be helpful to keep your windows closed as much as possible to prevent pollen and other allergens from entering the home.

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“Changing the filter on the furnace” will also help your air conditioning system cycle through the cleanest air, Ohayon said.

Pollen counts are usually highest in the morning, so avoid going outside during this time and save your walk, run or hike for the afternoon or evening.

If pets and shedding are a problem, try to keep them out of the bedroom as much as possible, Ohayon said.

Over-the-counter and prescription solutions

For people with mild allergy symptoms, over-the-counter allergy medicine can be an easy way to prevent them before they occur.

Taking them daily can act as “preventative therapy” and will aid with “sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and dermatitis,” said Grayson.

“Please be aware that medications like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and other older antihistamines can cause sedation and should be used in limited amounts in patients over 60 years of age,” she said.

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If over-the-counter allergy medicine isn’t effective, call your health-care provider to see if they can prescribe you something stronger.

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In addition to oral medication, Ohayon recommends “allergy nasal sprays and allergy eye drops,” which can be quite helpful in alleviating these irritating symptoms.

Allergies during the COVID-19 outbreak

Ohayon’s top concern for allergy patients during the pandemic is that symptoms can cause people to touch their nose and eyes more often — behaviour known to spread COVID-19.

He recommends wearing PPE like gloves and masks not only to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but also to prevent allergens from entering your mucous membranes and causing you to touch your face.

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Wearing glasses (even if you don’t need them to see) can also act as a reminder not to rub your eyes when you’re out in public, Ohayon said, no matter how itchy they are.

If you’re suffering from severe allergy symptoms, both Grayson and Ohayon say you should contact your primary health-care provider for assessment so you can get the help you need.

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