Well, spring’s here. All winter long everyone was pissing and moaning about the cold and the snow. The cold and snow are fine with me because I’m not allergic to them.
April showers, May flowers – for many of us that means snotty noses, itchy eyes, coughing and wheezing.
Allergies are a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system, an overreaction to something benign like pollen or mould. Allergies may be hereditary, and their severity can range from mildly annoying to life-threatening, like an anaphylaxis reaction to peanuts or bee stings.
You’re probably won’t die from hay fever, but allergic rhinitis and asthma can be really terrible, disrupting sleep and quality of life. Environmentalists say climate change is making it worse and that poorer people are more often affected.
Doctors recommend nipping it in the bud with preventative measures like immunotherapy. There are also over-the-counter medications.
Lifestyle changes like keeping the windows closed and the house clean and staying indoors can help. But who wants to stay indoors all the time? Check the daily pollen count to prepare yourself at theweathernetwork.com.
Let’s see what else we can do.
What the experts say
“Higher temperatures, a product of climate change, make for longer growing and pollen seasons. Plants are in distress, which activates their instinct to reproduce and send out more pollen.
Increased precipitation creates mould and mould spores, which trigger allergies. During longer dry periods there are more forest fires, so more particulate matter adheres to the lungs, and with more dust comes more dust mites, a major cause of allergies.
The closer you live to industrial sites, traffic and diesel emissions, the more likely you will have effects from industrial pollution, which exacerbates asthma and allergies. Poorer people live in industrial areas with less green space or in rural areas with more pollens.
The first line of attack is oral antihistamines. Or, if you’ve been tested, allergy shots are important. Health providers are starting to do sublingual (under the tongue) treatments that replace injections. We have one on the market for grass, which is the largest allergy in Canada. Also, intranasal sprays with cortisone are recommended for allergic rhinitis.”
ROBERT OLIPHANT, president and CEO, Asthma Society of Canada, Toronto
“The best front-line treatment is to get diagnosed properly and get onto allergy injection immunotherapy, but it’s a little late for that this season.
Antihistamine medications just cover up symptoms. In many cases the temporary relief can perpetuate the problem by delaying people from getting properly evaluated.
Over years, the disease can progress to the point where whatever relief the antihistamine could have offered is eclipsed by the reaction the body now mounts. We see this particularly in hay fever. People need to get diagnosed and get on definitive disease-modifying intervention.
In terms of lifestyle changes, you can replace your window screens with a material called PollenTEC, so that you can get fresh air while preventing pollens from coming into your home.”
MARK GREENWALD, allergist, Toronto
“For hay fever, choose foods that reduce inflammation, like wild fish, chia seeds, enzyme-rich pineapple and papaya. Turmeric and ginger contain the excellent anti-inflammatory bioflavonoid quercetin, which may help reduce allergy symptoms.
I recommend taking a homeopathic preparation such as Allergiplex for 10 consecutive days before the season starts. It contains pollen extract and boosts resistance to common spring allergens. Combine it with one tablespoon of locally produced honey daily during the 10-day regime. This helps alleviate allergy symptoms.”
SARA CELIK, naturopath, Toronto
“A number of natural treatments help reduce elevated histamine levels that result from exposure to tree pollen, grass and weeds. Increase omega-3 fatty acid foods like wild salmon or add one teaspoon of a good-quality fish oil daily. This decreases inflammation and histamine.
Avoid dairy during pollen season – that helps decrease mucous production and nasal congestion. Take 1,000 mg of quercetin and of vitamin C three times daily. Nettle leaf decreases histamine levels. For tea, steep 1 tbsp in a cup of hot water for eight to 10 minutes drink two to three cups per day.
For nasal irrigation, mix ? tsp baking soda and ? tsp fine sea salt in 1 cup water and use as a rinse up to three times daily to remove pollen from the nasal canal. Limit outdoor exposure on high pollen days.”
TARA ANDERSEN, naturopath, Toronto
“In conjunction with 3,000 mg of vitamin C a day in divided doses, I really like acupuncture because it helps balance the body and calm the nervous system. I also recommend a neti pot or salt water lavage every night to clear up any congestion.”
MUBINA JIWA, naturopath, Toronto