We're still in lazy, hazy summer, but autumn is definitely beckoning. Fall used to be my favourite time of year. It was like a gentle, cool hand brushing against a hot, flushed face.
Then I hit my early 20s and developed hay fever.
And now fall means two months of itching, wheezing and snot. (It would be the best time of year if someone came up with a practical use for mucous.) I dread it like a final exam, and spend the latter days of August and the entire month of September praying for the first frost.
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, affects between 10 and 20 per cent of Canadians and is caused by pollen. The most common culprit is ragweed, a pesky plant that seems to thrive just about anywhere.
Over-the-counter meds are widely available and quite effective. But this is the thing: I'm not the type of pill hater who cowers in terror at the sight of an aspirin, but ever since Seldane was pulled from shelves in 1998 due to potentially severe interactions with several other drugs and possibly grapefruit juice, I've been freaked out by allergy medications.
I used to take Seldane, and I drink a lot of grapefruit juice, y'know?
There are certain foods people with ragweed allergies probably want to avoid during the killer season. Cucumbers, watermelon, bananas, cantaloupes, honeydew and zucchini may exacerbate symptoms.
Also, stay away from camomile and echinacea, which you might think would be soothing but are actually ragweed's evil cousins in the Asteraceae family. Unless, of course, you're going homeopathic.
What the experts say
"Acupuncture can relieve symptoms of hay fever by 50 per cent for a week. In Chinatown, you can get suction cups with a little magnetic point with which you can self-administer. You would have to learn the points. In China, acupuncture would be delivered once a day. After 10 days you'd have a second course, but in the First World we can't afford that. There are several homeopathic remedies. The first is Pollen 30 - you want a low potency. Then there's Solidago (goldenrod) and Ambrosia (ragweed) either in 6c or 30c. Another is Allium cepa , which should be used if there is acrid nasal discharge. You have to strengthen the immune system and reduce the toxic load. This starts with cleaning up your diet and any chemicals in the house. Herbs in the ginseng family help with immune support, but be careful with South Asian and North American ginseng. A ginseng-like herb such as Siberian ginseng is one that anyone can use."
NORMAN ALLAN, chiropractor, herbalist, acupuncturist, homeopath, craniosacral therapist, Toronto
"The immune system has particular needs for certain vitamins and minerals. The basic good diet includes a lot of fruits and vegetables . These are critically important for their antioxidant content. Also key are beneficial bacteria like acidophilus , in which most people are deficient. I get babies onto acidophilus as soon as they're born, and there is some literature indicating that this stops them from developing allergic-type diseases. Increasing omega-3 fats [fish, flax] is important. Our diet contains too much omega-6 [nuts] and insufficient omega-3. When the balance is tipped, we produce inflammatory prostaglandins."
AILEEN BURFORD-MASON , dietitian, immunologist, Toronto
"Eat foods that stabilize the immune system like onions , garlic and ginger . Avoid mucous-forming foods like dairy, and foods that stress the body like refined sugars, preservatives and alcohol, especially red wine, which can really aggravate allergies. Supplements of essential fatty acids, vitamin C with bioflavinoids , B-complex and zinc all help stabilize the immune system. One supplement I use a lot is quercetin , which can work as a preventative. Stress management and relaxation techniques are helpful. Get exercise . Keep a diary of symptoms and see if foods or certain stressers are triggers."
KATE WHARTON , naturopath, Toronto
"According to Ayurveda, allergies all have a similar root cause, metabolic toxins called 'ama' deposited in the body due to undigested food that circulates in the system. Ayurvedic suggested treatments include developing healthy eating habits such as timely eating , eating in a non-stressful environment , chewing well , not sleeping immediately after and, most importantly, eating according to the seasons and your dosha [metabolic and body] type . Treatments such as nasal therapy or abhyanga Ayurvedic massage with herbal steam therapy are very effective."
ISMAT NATHANI , Ayurvedic neurotherapist, director, Centre for Ayurveda and Indian Systems of Healing, Toronto
"Minimize exposure to triggers. Use appropriate medications, then consider the role of allergen injection treatments. Exposure to pollen can be minimized by using air conditioning and keeping doors and windows closed . For mild symptoms, start with an antihistamine . If there is nasal stuffiness, then use a combined antihistamine and decongestant . Eye drops or nasal steroid sprays need to be taken regularly. If you have asthma, there's a range of treatment starting with a bronchodilator . Allergen injection treatment or immunotherapy is usually a third-line treatment."
SUSAN MARY TARLO , MD, professor of medicine, U of T
"ASA is alot more dangerous than allergy medicine. Seldane should have been taken off the market, and it was, but the number of actual fatal reactions was extremely low. Arrhythmias were caused by astemizole and/or terfenedine (now off the market), but now the non-sedating antihistamines are really quite safe. Acetaminophen is the leading cause of liver failure in North America. Of course many people take these drugs every day and don't drop dead, but this is relative."
JACK UETRECHT , professor of pharmacy and medicine, U of T, Canada research chair on Adverse Drug Reactions