Fighting seasonal allergies
The arrival of spring and summer weather is beautiful – and it means trees begin pollinating in earnest. This process causes many people to experience 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 symptoms as we get closer to summer, chances are you have allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever. But don’t be fooled by its 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 we recognize as an 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 suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, they are relatively harmless. You’re also in good company: according to Asthma Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians suffers from seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Deciphering symptoms during COVID-19
Many people don’t even know they’re suffering from allergies — they think they’re dealing with a cold instead. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, even cold symptoms can be cause for concern. Get an on-demand diagnoses using a virtual healthcare platform like Akira by TELUS Health, or contact your primary care provider. If you need to go in person, be sure to wear a mask before you leave to speak to a health care provider about your symptoms.
The intensity of allergy symptoms varies from one person to another, and in some cases, they can affect your quality of 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.
Lifestyle tips for airborne allergy-sufferers:
- Keep windows and doors closed during high-pollen periods
- Use an air conditioner on indoor cycle with a filter to cool, filter and dehumidify the air
- Refrain from outdoor activities between 5am – 10am, 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 clothing fibres
- Stay indoors during wet or windy weather
- Wear sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes
- Reduce the number of plants in the home as damp soil can promote mold and mildew growth
- Keep car windows closed when driving
- If possible, 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 — but it’s best to consult a healthcare practitioner before using them, and for further guidance if they don’t work.
Your healthcare provider may suggest immunotherapy, which reduces your sensitivity to the substance responsible for the allergy by injecting small doses 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 Akira by TELUS Health.