Seasonal allergies: recognize and ease the symptoms

You believe you suffer from an allergy? Ok. Now you need to know which one! Here are a few pointers to help you identify and fight the allergens making you ill!

What are seasonal allergies?

We hear a lot about seasonal allergies on TV, at work, on vacation, etc. The reason we hear so much about them is simple: it's because they affect such a large number of people of all ages. In Canada, it is estimated that about one person out of six is affected by the unpleasantness of seasonal allergies each year.

Seasonal allergies occur when your body reacts and defends itself against substances that are usually harmless. These substances, called allergens, sometimes take the form of air-borne particles. When they come into contact with mucous membranes, such as those of the nose, mouth and eyes, the body activates an allergic reaction.

A person may react to several types of allergens: animal hair, certain foods or drugs, dust, latex, etc. In the case of seasonal allergies, pollen is the allergen at issue. At the beginning of spring, when the ground thaws (usually in March or April), tree pollen is the first to trigger allergies. At the beginning of summer, grasses (hay, grass, and prairie grass) enter into the mix. This is followed by ragweed allergies in mid-July until the first frost in the fall.

Seasonal allergies can start in childhood or later on in life.

How do you know if you're suffering from a cold or from seasonal allergies?

It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between an allergy and the common cold, as some of the symptoms are similar such as runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and nasal congestion. In the case of an allergy, a runny nose involves abundant, liquid, and clear secretions. Secretions due to a cold are sometimes thicker and coloured. Both may cause headaches, fatigue, altered general condition, and insomnia.

Here are some typical symptoms of seasonal allergies:

  • abundant lacrimation
  • itching (sometimes significant) of the eyes, nose, throat, ears or roof of the mouth
  • repetitive sneezing
  • red eyes
  • swollen eyelids

Note that seasonal allergies generally do not cause sore throat or fever. Additionally, they usually last longer than 10 days, unlike a cold. When in doubt, it's better to consult a doctor to obtain a diagnosis.

How can symptoms be reduced?

It is best to avoid all contact with the allergen when you suffer from an allergy. This solution is relatively easy when it involves food, medication or an animal, but when it involves pollen, this complicates things since it is airborne during allergy season.

Despite this fact, you can reduce contact with pollen and minimize allergy symptoms by following this advice:

  • Wear sunglasses to reduce the amount of pollen reaching your eyes.
  • Avoid hanging your clothes out to dry to prevent pollen deposits on the fabric.
  • Keep the lawn cut short, because growing grass blooms and releases pollen.
  • Keep the windows closed. Opt for air-conditioning whenever possible.
  • Eliminate ragweed in your physical environment.
  • Avoid going outside in the morning, and when the weather is dry, hot and windy. It is always preferable to practice outdoor activities at the end of the afternoon or after heavy rain when pollen levels are low.
  • Wear a mask to filter out dust while gardening or mowing the lawn.
  • Take a shower and change clothes upon entering the house, as pollen can stick to clothes, skin and hair.
  • Check the pollen index before going outside. It is a measure of the pollen seed concentration in the air. If the count is high, you are likely to have stronger symptoms.
  • Avoid smoking or being exposed to second-hand smoke, which can worsen seasonal allergy symptoms.

What treatments help to reduce symptoms?

Fortunately, there are a variety of medications and products available at the pharmacy that help you manage seasonal allergy symptoms:

  • oral antihistamines
  • oral or topical (spray form) decongestants
  • eye drops
  • saline solutions to flush out the nose
  • corticosteroid nasal sprays
  • etc. 

Most of these products are provided over-the-counter, on pharmacy shelves or following a consultation with the pharmacist. Some require a prescription.

Don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions about allergies and their treatment. 

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Seasonal allergies: recognize and ease the symptoms

You believe you suffer from an allergy? Ok. Now you need to know which one! Here are a few pointers to help you identify and fight the allergens making you ill!
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