Coping with seasonal allergies

by Dr. Chris Singh

Although we have had a fairly cool and wet spring in many parts of Canada, it is fair to say that summer will eventually arrive. With that being said, allergy season will also soon arrive.

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is caused by the body’s allergic reaction to allergens such as pollen, grass, dust mites, or pet dander. Hay fever affects approximately 20% of the population in North America.

Although hay fever is not a life-threatening condition, symptoms can significantly affect a person’s performance at work. The good news is hay fever is fairly easy to treat.

The cause of hay fever is the immune system’s overreaction to harmless airborne substances. When the immune system comes in contact with these substances it releases chemicals, such as histamine, into the bloodstream. It is these chemicals that are responsible for the symptoms of hay fever.

The symptoms of hay fever usually develop during childhood or early adulthood, although, it can begin at any age. Common symptoms include running nose, nasal congestion, watery eyes, as well as sneezing and coughing.

Hay fever is usually more of an irritating condition than a significant medical problem. However, the symptoms of hay fever can significantly reduce the quality of a person’s life. In severe cases, hay fever can lead to absences from work.

Hay fever is usually diagnosed by your doctor after taking a detailed medical history and conducting a physical examination. Your doctor may also recommend undergoing special testing to identify what specifically you are allergic to. A common test is called the skin prick test. This test involves pricking the skin with small amounts of possible allergens and monitoring your body’s response.

A positive reaction would cause a small raised bump on the skin. Blood testing can also be performed to measure your body’s immune response.

The good news is hay fever is treatable. The first form of treatment is to avoid the substances that cause your reaction. However, this is not always the most practical solution.

In mild cases, over-the-counter medications may suffice. Antihistamines are the most commonly-prescribed medication for hay fever. These medications work by blocking histamine, which is responsible for many of the symptoms associated with hay fever. It is important to note that some of these medications may cause you to become drowsy. So, it is important to discuss it with your physician before taking any of these medications when you drive for a living.

Nasal corticosteroids are used to reduce nasal inflammation and runny nose. These are administered in the form of nose sprays. Another group of medications are called decongestants. There are several side-effects associated with decongestants, which include increased blood pressure, insomnia, irritability, and headache. As such, they are designed for short-term use only.

Discuss your particular case with your doctor, and he or she will be able to advise you as to which medication is best for you. Until next month, drive safely.

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