Springtime means brighter skies and warmer days. For many Canadians, however, it also marks the return of something much less appealing: seasonal allergies.
One in five Canadians suffers from respiratory allergies such as allergic rhinitis, says Asthma Canada. Allergic rhinitis (often referred to as hay fever) occurs when the immune system becomes sensitized to substances in the environment. It perceives these substances, or allergens, as invaders and quickly overreacts, producing antibodies that trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals. This, in turn, leads to the familiar symptoms of seasonal allergic reactions:
- 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)
In addition to causing these physical symptoms, allergic rhinitis can affect a person’s concentration, decision-making, hand-eye coordination, memory and mood. It can also interfere with daily activities, such as work, school or driving a car.
Causes of allergic rhinitis
We don’t know exactly what causes some people to develop allergic rhinitis, although it’s believed that genetic factors and environment play a role. Allergic rhinitis can affect people of any age, and it can be seasonal or perennial. To determine what you’re allergic to, ask your physician about doing an allergy skin test.
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 symptoms include a fever). These common 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. It’s caused by indoor allergens such as dust, dust mites, mold, mildew and pet hair or dander. Some people are also sensitive to cigarette smoke, detergents, strong scents or odours, vehicle exhaust fumes, cleaning solutions or air pollution (smog). If you have perennial allergic rhinitis and/or asthma, you may find that it worsens when spring or summer allergies begin.
Minimizing the symptoms
Not surprisingly, the most effective way to reduce the misery of allergic rhinitis is to reduce exposure to allergens. Try these strategies around your home:
- 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 chores (such as gardening, mowing the lawn or raking leaves) 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 put on fresh 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 bed linens, wipe down surfaces, etc.
- Don’t dry laundry outside.
Medication for allergic rhinitis
If you suffer from allergic rhinitis, it’s important to take steps to treat the condition and reduce your exposure to allergens. This is especially important if you have a chronic disease, as many older adults do. Allergy symptoms could worsen existing medical problems.
There are many over-the-counter remedies to treat allergic rhinitis, including antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays and eye drops. Talk to your family physician or allergist about the right treatment for you, especially if you’re an older adult – this will help you avoid dangerous drug interactions and unwanted side effects. Always use medication as directed.
If you have severe allergies, your family physician or allergist may prescribe immunotherapy (allergy shots or pills).
Bayshore Home Health offers a wide range of home care services to help Canadians live independently for as long as possible. Contact us at 1-877-289-3997 for details.