Coping with Seasonal Allergies
What Is an Allergy?
An allergy is an overreaction of the body's immune system to normally harmless substances. Usually the immune system protects your body by eliminating foreign substances (or allergens), such as bacteria or viruses. If you have seasonal allergies, your body overreacts to certain pollens when you are exposed to these allergens. Allergens cause special cells, called mast cells, to release a number of substances, including histamine. The release of histamine causes the itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and runny nose that are so typical of allergies.
How Do Seasonal Allergies Differ from Other Allergies?
In seasonal allergies (also known as hay fever) the symptoms tend to change throughout the day and are usually worse in the morning. Seasonal allergies can last for weeks or months, depending on the allergen or allergens involved. Sneezing is the most common symptom and most people will complain that their eyes, nose and roof of their mouth feel itchy.
When Is Allergy Season?
The time of the year when seasonal allergies occur depends on where you live. Here, in the Atlantic Provinces, the allergy season runs from the beginning of April until the beginning of October. Tree pollen is the main culprit in April and May, while grass pollen takes over from June through September. Ragweed season starts in August and concludes in early October.
What Can I Do to Lessen My Allergy Symptoms?
The most important thing to do is to determine the exact substances to which you are allergic. If you are aware of which allergens you are sensitive to, and when your allergies are most prominent, then you can take action to avoid these allergens as much as possible.
Answer the following questions to see if you are doing all that you can to control your allergy symptoms.
- Does your home have air conditioning so that you may comfortably keep the windows closed during allergy season?
- Do you plan your outdoor activities to minimize your exposure to pollen?
- Do you use your clothes dryer all year long?
- Have you addressed the pet issue?
- Have you had the ragweed around your home cut down and does someone else mow your lawn?
- Is your car air conditioned so that you may keep the windows rolled up?
- Do you plan your vacations in order to leave the area during peak allergy season?
- Are you using your allergy medications properly?
- Keeping the windows of your home closed during allergy season reduces the amount of pollen that enters your home and helps to minimize your allergy symptoms. An air conditioned home allows you to do this comfortably.
- Pollen counts tend to be lower in the evening and after a rainfall. Plan your outdoor activities at these times to reduce your pollen exposure.
- Wet clothes, hung on a line to dry, trap pollen. Using your clothes dryer avoids this.
- Pets can carry a large amount of pollen in their fur, especially pets allowed out of doors. If you must have a pet, have it groomed by a professional regularly and keep it out of your bedroom.
- Having the ragweed cut down around your home reduces the source of ragweed pollen. If someone else mows your lawn, you will not be exposed to the high levels of grass pollen that are stirred up by a lawnmower.
- An air conditioned car allows you to keep your car windows closed and reduces your exposure to pollen.
- Leaving the area during peak allergy season may help reduce your symptoms. Be sure, though, that you do not leave one trouble spot for another.
- For allergy medications to work properly they must be taken at the right time and in the right amount.
The itching, sneezing and tearing that you experience during allergy season is thought to be caused by histamine.
- Tiny blood vessels to expand and blood flow to increase
- Tissues to swell and become inflamed
- Saliva and tear glands to produce more fluid
- Airways to narrow
What Medications are Used for the Treatment of Seasonal Allergies?
Although doing all that you can to lower your exposure to the substances that cause your allergies is important, it is often not enough to eliminate your symptoms completely. Sometimes it is not possible to avoid exposure to these substances. Fortunately, many drugs are available to help reduce the symptoms of allergies, including:
- Intranasal drugs
Antihistamines block the action of histamine, especially in the small blood vessels of the skin and nose and help to reduce allergy symptoms:
- Redness and irritation in the eyes
- Irritation and watering in the nose
- Itching and sneezing
- Nasal discharge
- Reactine® (cetirizine HCl)
- Allegra® (fexofenadine)
- Claritin® (loratadine)
- Aerius® (desloratidine)
Always inform your doctor and Sobeys Pharmacist of any over-the-counter antihistamine you are using, and never exceed the recommended dosage.
Intranasal drugs are effective in treating seasonal allergies by helping to prevent the release of histamine for relief from:
- Runny nose
Intranasal drug suggestions:
- Beconase Aq® (beclomethasone dipropionate)
- Rhinocort Turbohaler®, Rhinocort Aqua® (budesonide)
- Rhinalar® (flunisolide)
- Flonase® (fluticasone propionate)
- Nasacort®, Nasacort AQ® (triamcinolone acetonide)
- Avamys (Fluticasone Furoate)
- Omnaris (Ciclesonide)
Some intranasal drugs may require a physician’s prescription. Please talk to your doctor or Sobeys Pharmacist before taking any medication.
Decongestants may be taken by mouth (tablets, capsules or syrups) or they may be administered as a nasal spray or as nose drops. Nose drops or sprays tend to work faster and have fewer immediate side effects than decongestants taken by mouth.
However, if overused, decongestants, especially nasal sprays or drops, can actually make the problem worse. Overuse causes rebound congestion, a condition where the nasal membranes are more swollen and congested than before treatment. To avoid this:
- Use the lowest dose that is effective for you.
- Only use decongestants when absolutely necessary.
- Do not use decongestants nasal sprays or drops for more than three to seven days.
Because oral decongestants may cause an increased heart rate or trembling, they should be used with caution in patients with heart problems, high blood pressure, or in those with an overactive thyroid gland. Check with your doctor or your Sobeys Pharmacist before using these medications if you have any of these conditions.
Will I Need Allergy Shots?
Your doctor may suggest allergy shots if your symptoms are difficult to control, if your job requires you to be exposed to allergens regularly, or if you cannot tolerate the side effects of various medications. Most people who have allergy shots find that their allergy symptoms improve, although they may still need some of the medications already mentioned.
Will I Ever Be Able to Control My Allergy Symptoms?
It is sometimes difficult to predict how people with allergies will respond to different types of allergy medications. You may need to try several different formulations before you find the product or products that are best for you. Don't get discouraged; most people with allergies are ultimately able to achieve control of their symptoms if they follow an appropriate drug therapy and do all that they can to avoid exposure to the allergens that cause their symptoms.