Pollen allergy season extends from April to the first fall frosts. Find out how to minimize its impact.
WHAT IS ALLERGIC RHINITIS?
We hear a lot about allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies). The reason we hear so much about it is quite simple: it affects a very large number of people of all ages. It is estimated that it affects between 10% and 30% of the population. Allergic rhinitis can occur during childhood, later on at adolescence or in adulthood. It is more common in children who have one or both parents who suffer from it.
Allergies occur when the 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. For many, symptoms occur at the same time each year. Therefore, pollen is the allergen at issue. At the beginning of spring, when the ground thaws (usually in March or April), tree pollen triggers 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 frosts in the fall.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE A COLD OR ALLERGIC RHINITIS?
It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between an allergy and the common cold, as some of the symptoms are similar, like runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and nasal congestion. In the case of an allergy, a runny nose involves clear, abundant, fluid secretions. Secretions due to a cold are sometimes thicker and coloured. Both can cause headaches, fatigue, altered overall 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, and
- swollen eyelids
Note that allergic rhinitis generally does not cause a sore throat or fever. Additionally, it usually lasts more than 10 days, unlike a cold. When in doubt, it's better to consult a doctor to obtain a diagnosis.
HOW CAN SYMPTOMS BE EASED?
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 these tips:
- 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.
- Close windows and 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. This is a measure of the pollen seed concentration in the air. If the count is high, you are likely to have stronger symptoms.
WHAT TREATMENTS HELP TO REDUCE SYMPTOMS?
Fortunately, there are a variety of medications and products available at the pharmacy that help you manage allergic rhinitis symptoms, including:
- oral antihistamines
- oral or topical decongestants (in spray format)
- eye drops
- saline solutionsto flush out the nose
- corticosteroid nasal sprays
Most of these products are provided over-the-counter, on pharmacy shelves or following a consultation with a pharmacist. Some require a prescription.
Don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions about allergies and their treatment.