Call them seasonal allergies, hayfever, pollinosis or allergic rhinitis, but don’t dismiss them as ‘the sniffles’ to the millions of people worldwide whose quality of life takes a dive at particular times of the year.
Sneezing and a runny nose may be the most obvious symptoms, but pollen allergies can also trigger itchy eyes, a sore throat, coughing, fatigue, headaches, rashes and, if left untreated, even asthma attacks.
Although seasonal allergies usually begin in childhood, they can develop at any stage of life. Here are some coping strategies.
To start, check your local pollen reports and plan activities accordingly. Generally, right after a downpour is the best time to venture outdoors, because the rain drags airborne particles to the ground. If you must garden, wear a protective mask.
Next, make your home a sanctuary. Until pollination time passes, keep your windows shut as often as possible. (Allergy seasons vary by region: in temperate climates, they’re generally in springtime for tree-allergy sufferers; summer for those allergic to grass pollens; and late summer to early autumn for those set off by ragweed or mugwort.)
After a stint outdoors, change your clothes and take a shower to remove pollen from your skin and hair. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, designed to capture the majority of airborne particles, should snag the sneakiest of allergens.
If avoiding triggers isn’t realistic, there are medications at your disposal. In the over-the-counter category, antihistamines can be taken even before symptoms start on high-pollen-count days. Corticosteroids, which require a prescription, pack an even greater punch.
There’s also allergen immunotherapy (AIT): injections, tablets or drops that gradually expose you to ever-larger doses of your trigger substance. They require regular doctor visits for months or even years, but “their beneficial effects are sustained for years after the treatment course has ended,” explains Dr Oliver Pfaar, chair of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology’s interest group on immunotherapy. AIT may also help prevent new or more severe allergies developing, Pfaar adds.
Warning: If hayfever, hives or an allergic reaction of any kind is accompanied by swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing, seek medical help immediately. These symptoms signal anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency.