Health

Seasonal allergies: Dealing with the symptoms

Traditional treatments for allergies include antihistamines, nasal sprays and eyes drops. However, some natural therapies have shown some promise as well.

So you've been poked, prodded and scratched — and your doctor's come back with a diagnosis of season allergic rhinitis. Whether it's tree pollen, grass or ragweed, you're looking at spending part of the time trying to minimize your exposure and treating your symptoms — if they're bad enough.

Some people may only find themselves sneezing a bit. Others may suffer everything from watering eyes, runny nose and frequent sneezing — enough to keep them up at night and off work from time to time.

There are steps you can take to reduce your exposure and — perhaps — ease your symptoms so spring and summer don't become long months of hiding in your home.

What can I do to reduce my exposure to the stuff that makes me so miserable?

Check your local pollen count. Stay inside when it's high (especially between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. when it's usually at its highest), and keep your windows and doors closed.

Seasonal allergies

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Air conditioning can also help — but you must clean or change your furnace's air filter often. If you're using a window air conditioner, clean its filter frequently.

If you need to get out of the house on days when pollen counts are high or it's windy outside, consider going to air-conditioned venues for your leisure activities.

Wear a filter mask if you're going to be working around the yard.

Among the treatments for seasonal rhinitis is nasal drops. They should be taken before allergy season starts. ((iStock photo))
If you're driving, keep the windows closed and use the air conditioner.

Keep your home as allergy-free as possible. Consider replacing carpets with wood or laminate flooring.

Use a dehumidifier to help keep indoor air dry.

Use your washroom fan when taking a shower, to help reduce the humidity in your home. A damper atmosphere promotes the growth of mould and may help trigger your allergies.

Use an air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom. These filters trap the stuff that may set off your allergies. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

Change your sheets and pillowcases often.

Reduce clutter: clutter means lots of stuff is lying around your home and that gives dust more places to settle and accumulate. Dust — and dust mites — can be major allergy triggers.

Clean out your dryer vent often.

Don't hang your wash outdoors to dry. Your sheets, towels and clothes may have that great outdoors smell when they're hanging on the line, but you'll be exposing yourself to more pollen when you bring the stuff inside.

Change your clothes and take a shower when you come home, especially on days when the pollen count is high.

Wear sunglasses when going outside. It'll reduce your sensitivity to light and help prevent your eyes from excessive watering.

If you're a woman, consider having several children. An Italian study suggests the more children a woman has, the less likely she'll suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis.

There's a theory that a small family size increases a child's risk of developing allergies, because of the "hygiene hypothesis." It argues that fewer infections in childhood lead to increasing allergic sensitization, because the body does not have as much opportunity to build up protection against some antibodies. Without regular priming, the theory goes, the immune system gets bored and overreacts to pollens, or other allergens.

What medicinal treatments are available?

Antihistamines. These pills contain drugs that are supposed to neutralize the histamines that are produced when allergens irritate your immune system.

Allergy pills have come a long way in the past 30 years. It wasn't that long ago that the only allergy pills on the market may have cleared up your symptoms, but left you so drowsy you couldn't function very well.

That type of pill is still on the market - and may be the best choice for some people. Newer allergy medications are less likely to make people drowsy. Some of them, however, can leave your mouth and your skin feeling dry.

In Canada, most allergy pills are available over the counter — you don't need a prescription.

If your symptoms are more severe, there are nasal sprays and eye drops you can also take. Several require a prescription.

Nasal sprays work by coating your nasal passages and protecting them from becoming irritated by allergens. However, these sprays must be taken well before allergy symptoms start for them to work effectively.

What about allergy shots?

This is another option, for some people. Injection therapy, however, has been shown to have little or no effect for about 30 per cent of allergy sufferers. As well, showing up for a shot once a week for three to five years is tough for a lot of people.

With allergy shots, you are injected with a small amount of the allergen once a week. The exposure is slowly increased until you build up a resistance to the allergen. Forty per cent of patients can expect excellent results.

Are there natural therapies available?

Consuming locally-produced honey has been touted as a natural way to treat allergy symptoms. The theory is that local honey contains the same allergens that you would normally be exposed to, so consuming it may help desensitive you. However, no large-scale clinical study has found any difference in relief between groups of people treated with locally-produced honey and groups of people treated with a placebo.

However, a large-scale study did find that extracts from butterbur can be as effective as non-drowsy antihistamines in treating hayfever.

Butterbur is a plant found throughout Europe and Asia and parts of North America. Its roots have been used in herbal remedies for centuries. The leaves have only been introduced recently as a new herbal medicine.

An extract derived from the plant can inhibit the body's ability to produce leukotrienes, biomolecules that make your body react to allergens. They also help stimulate chemicals that play a role in reducing inflammation.

Another natural remedy that has shown some promise is Astragalus membranaceus. A study has shown some promise for the herb in treating allergy symptoms, but suggests that further study is needed.

There has also been research that suggests that green tea may help alleviate allergy symptoms.

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