Allergy season in full swing in Hamilton

Tree pollen season is here and a McMaster University allergy specialist has tips on how to get through it.
Grass pollen season is here, and a McMaster allergy specialist has tips to get through it. (iStock)

Allergy sufferers take note — relief is still likely a few weeks away.

"We're still in tree pollen season. It's upon us and the counts are very respectable," said Susan Waserman, a professor in the division of clinical immunology and allergy from McMaster University's department of medicine.

People who end up hacking and coughing in the springtime are likely suffering from tree pollen allergies, and birch is one of the worst offenders in the Hamilton area, Waserman says.

Tree pollen levels should start dropping in the next couple of weeks — just in time for new allergens to start rearing their heads.

"Grass is the summer pollen," Waserman said, adding that there are already low levels of grass pollen measurable in the air around Hamilton. "There is a significant overlap sometimes through the seasons."

Fighting the symptoms

So what can sufferers do to find relief? Waserman says a proper diagnosis is the key.

"Is this really an allergy? People make the assumption that because it's the right time of year and they have all the typical eye and nasal symptoms, it can only be an outside pollen," Waserman said.

"And most of the time it is, but there may be other allergens that are responsible, like pets within the home and that sort of thing."

There are easy things people can do to combat their symptoms Wasserman says, like keeping windows shut in the house and car, using air conditioning, and reserving outdoor activities for the evening when pollen counts are typically lower.

"But at the end of the day, medication is probably what most people need," she said.

The most common types of medication are over the counter antihistamines. Waserman generally recommends something long-lasting and non-drowsy.

"And they're helpful for a lot of people, but also in some cases they're not enough."

Upping the ante

More effective medications come by prescriptions — like nasal steroids, eye drops or even allergy injections.

Allergy injections work much in the same way that vaccinations do. A tiny amount of an allergen is injected into a person so they'll slowly develop a tolerance to it. This kind of procedure can be useful for people who don't like medications, or find they aren't working, Waserman says.

"It reprograms the immune system to accept that pollen as opposed to having symptoms when it comes in contact to it."

The worst thing a person can do is simply put up with their symptoms for a long period of time, Waserman says.

"Don't suffer in silence," she said. "There are good, effective treatments — but if avoidance and over the counter medications aren't working for you, see your doctor for more effective medications."

"Speak about allergy injections for the future if even those don't provide the relief that you need."