The warmer weather is here, and with it: Allergy season!
If you have allergies, your body is sensitive to things that most people don't react to. You may be sensitive to pollen, dust, pet dander, food, or something else. When you are near the things that cause your allergies (allergens), your body over-reacts. Your body's over-reaction can cause many symptoms: itching, watery eyes, wheezing, coughing, sneezing, and more.
1. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is the common name for symptoms from allergens you breathe in: pollen from ragweed, grass, and trees, pet dander, mold, etc.
2. Allergies in people with asthma. If you have asthma, you may also have allergies that make your asthma symptoms worse. Different people have different allergies. If you have asthma, it's very important to:
- find out what your allergens are
- avoid your allergens
- know how to treat your allergies
Despite the name, hay is not the cause of the sneezing, watery eyes and scratchy throat commonly associated with hay fever. Hay fever is an allergic response that can be treated by taking medicine and by avoiding the allergens that trigger it.
There are two kinds of hay fever. The most common, known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to pollens released by trees, grasses or weeds. People may be allergic to one or several pollens, and they get hay fever when those particular pollens are in season.
A second type of hay fever is called "perennial allergic rhinitis". People affected by perennial allergic rhinitis are affected by allergies year-round. Their hay fever is caused by indoor allergens such as dust mites, mold, and furry animals.
Many people compare hay fever symptoms to those of the common cold. Typical hay fever symptoms include:
- Frequent sneezing
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Scratchy, irritated throat
- Difficulty sleeping
- Worsening of symptoms in people with asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Hay fever symptoms are different for each person, ranging from mild to severe. Untreated, these symptoms can be hard to live with and can interfere with daily activities. Repeated hay fever attacks can result in chronic sinusitis - a painful swelling of the sinus cavities.
Ragweed plants are one of the most widespread causes of symptoms in seasonal hay fever sufferers. It's estimated that 75 per cent of people with hay fever are bothered by ragweed. Ragweed is a weed commonly found in Eastern and Midwestern Canada. Each plant produces up to 1 billion pollen grains. Warmth, humidity and wind promote the release of pollen.
Ragweed plants usually grow in rural areas. Near the plants, the pollen counts are highest shortly after dawn. Pollen counts peak in many urban areas between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., depending on the weather.
Seasonal allergies are a common trigger for people with lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Exposure to pollen can trigger disease flare-ups and make your symptoms much worse. Ask your health professional for help in creating an action plan that outlines important information on what medications you should take and when your triggers, the early warning signs of an attack or flare-up, and when to seek emergency medical treatment.
If you think you may have hay fever, see your health professional. If possible, keep track of when your symptoms started and stopped - this can be an important clue in helping your health professional to identify the types of pollens that trigger your symptoms and make treatment easier. Your health professional may suggest an over-the counter (non-prescription) antihistamine, prescribe special cortisone nose sprays and eye drops, or refer you to an allergist for further tests.
- Check the pollen forecast on The Weather Channel or in your local newspaper before going outdoors.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses to prevent pollen from blowing into your eyes
- Avoid places with lots of grass, like parks or fields, especially if the grass is freshly cut
- If possible, ask someone else to mow the lawn or weed the garden
- Keep windows closed and use air conditioning at home and in the car to reduce exposure to outdoor pollens. If a window-type air conditioner is used, the vent should be kept closed
- Don't line-dry sheets or clothing outdoors; they may capture pollen
- After spending time outdoors change your clothing and wash your hair. Your hair and clothes can trap pollen, which can be released indoors
- Ask your health professional about anti-histamine medications and prescription nose and eye drops to relieve symptoms. Be careful when driving or using machinery, as some allergy medicines can make you sleepy