With the arrival of spring and the awakening of nature comes… the return of seasonal allergies! If you are among the thousands of Quebecers who develop a runny nose as soon as the pollen count goes up, here are a few tips to help you take control of your allergies.
First of all, make sure it is actually allergies!
When seasonal allergies reappear in the spring, the viruses that cause the common cold are usually still active. And since cold and allergy symptoms have much in common, it’s not always easy to tell them apart.
If you are experiencing the following symptoms, you likely have seasonal allergies:
- Bilateral nasal congestion
- Tingling sensation in the nose or throat
- Very liquid, transparent, nasal discharge
- Serial sneezing
- Red, watery, or itchy eyes
- Cough, especially if you are asthmatic
- If your symptoms are more like those below, then you’ve probably got a cold:
- Nasal congestion in one or both nostrils
- Thick (white, yellowish, or greenish) nasal discharge
- Low-grade fever (or no fever at all)
Your first line of defence is prevention
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you will need to do a few things to reduce your exposure to pollen, since pollen is what triggers your symptoms.
- Avoid outdoor activities in the morning and on windy, very dry, or very hot days. Take advantage of rainy days to get some fresh air, as rain helps flush pollen out of the air and onto the ground.
- Wear sunglasses when you go outside.
- Keep your windows closed (at home and in your car).
- Don’t hang your laundry to dry outside.
- When you come in from outdoors, change your clothes and take a shower. Be sure to wash your hair thoroughly, as pollen tends to stick to it.
- If possible, have someone else mow your lawn and care for your yard. Otherwise, wear a mask and sunglasses when doing so.
If you know which pollens you are allergic to, consult weather forecasting websites to check pollen counts in your area. This information will help you determine when to take preventive measures. Alternatively, take these measures as soon as your symptoms appear.
How to relieve your symptoms
There are four classes of over-the-counter medications available to relieve allergy symptoms:
For allergies, saline solutions are helpful…
- as a preventive treatment, to reduce your exposure to pollen. Use them to clean your nasal passages after an outdoor activity.
- as a treatment to relieve nasal congestion.
Saline solutions are available in various forms, including sprays and nasal irrigation products. Both types of product are good options, however nasal irrigation products, which send saltwater from one nostril to the other through the sinuses, tend to cleanse more thoroughly. Nasal irrigation products may sound complicated to use, but the technique is actually very simple. Your pharmacist can explain how to use them.
These medications work by blocking histamine, a substance produced by the body when it is exposed to pollen. They are very helpful as they act on all symptoms.
There are two generations of antihistamines.
- First-generation products like diphenhydramine (Benadryl and private-label products) cause drowsiness, so it is best to avoid taking them during the day so they don’t interfere with your daytime activities. They can be useful at night if your allergies are making it hard for you to get a good night’s sleep.
- Second-generation antihistamines cause little or no drowsiness at all. They are labelled “non-drowsy.” All antihistamines—first- and second-generation alike—are effective against seasonal allergies.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays
These medications are available with and without a prescription (behind the counter). They are a good option those who are seriously affected by their allergy symptoms, especially asthmatics. For maximum effect, they should be taken daily, on a regular basis, for the duration of allergy season.
It is important to use the correct spray technique, to reduce the risk of side effects. Be sure to carefully follow your pharmacist’s instructions.
Decongestants act only to relieve nasal congestion. They are recommended when nasal congestion is still present, despite using a saline solution. Decongestants are available as nasal sprays or in tablet form. While they are effective, they are also often associated with side effects. Never exceed the manufacturer’s recommended dose or frequency. Since decongestants may not be advised for everyone, it’s best to consult your pharmacist before using them.
What about all-in-one products?
Some antihistamine manufacturers offer formulas that also contain a decongestant. Be careful not to use them together with a nasal spray decongestant. However, you can still use a saline spray or nasal irrigation product.
Do not use “cold and sinus” products to treat your allergies, as they contain ingredients that are not helpful for allergy symptom relief.
When in doubt, ask your pharmacist!
Over-the-counter medication is effective and safe for most people, however it may not be appropriate for you if you have a chronic disease, are taking certain medicines or are pregnant or nursing.
Your pharmacist is there to help you choose the right medication for your symptoms and condition, and to ensure it is compatible with any other medications you are taking, so be sure to drop by and see them!