Achoo! If the return of spring has you sneezing, coughing or itching, you’re not alone. One in five Canadians suffers from respiratory allergies such as allergic rhinitis. It occurs when the immune system overreacts to substances in the environment, triggering the release of histamine and other chemicals. This, in turn, causes the misery-inducing symptoms of seasonal allergies:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy, burning, red and watery eyes
- Itchy nose and roof of mouth
- Post-nasal drip
- Coughing or sore throat
- Fatigue (due to allergies disrupting sleep)
There are two types of allergic rhinitis:
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis is also known as called hay fever, but sufferers aren’t necessarily allergic to hay or other grasses (nor do they have a fever). These allergens can trigger an immune reaction:
- Tree pollen, such as oak, maple, willow, birch, ash and pine (March to June)
- Grass pollen, from blue, rye or Bermuda grass (May to July)
- Weed pollen, including ragweed (August to October, or the first frost)
- Perennial allergic rhinitis affects sufferers year-round. Indoor allergens such as dust, dust mites, mold, mildew, and pet hair or dander may be to blame. Some people are sensitive to cigarette smoke, detergents, strong smells, vehicle exhaust fumes, cleaning solutions or air pollution (smog). If you have perennial allergic rhinitis and/or asthma, it may get worse with the onset of spring or summer allergies.
To determine which substances you react to, ask your physician about allergy testing.
Reduce your exposure
Try these strategies around your home to keep pollen and other allergens at bay:
- Keep windows and doors shut.
- Turn on the air conditioner.
- Use an air purifier (look for a model with a HEPA filter).
- Stay indoors more often, or time your outings or outdoor chores to avoid the times when pollen counts are highest or when it’s windy. (Check the weather channel for pollen counts.)
- After spending time outside, take a shower and change your clothes.
- Don’t rub irritated eyes. Rinse them with cool water.
- Rinse your nasal passages with saline.
- Wear sunglasses or glasses outdoors.
- Wear a pollen mask over your mouth and nose.
- Clean your home often – vacuum floors, carpets and furniture, wash linens, wipe down surfaces, etc.
- Don’t dry your laundry outside.
Treating allergic rhinitis
There are many over-the-counter remedies to treat allergic rhinitis, including antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays and eye drops. If you have severe allergies, your physician or allergist may prescribe immunotherapy (allergy shots or pills). Whichever treatment you choose, ask whether it could interact with other medications you’re taking, and always follow directions.