5 things you should know about allergies

Summertime is a mixed blessing for me. While it’s my favourite season due to the lovely warm weather (when it’s

Summertime is a mixed blessing for me. While it’s my favourite season due to the lovely warm weather (when it’s not raining, that is), it also means months of sneezing, sniffling and a stuffed-up nose. And I’m not alone—20 to 25 percent of Canadians suffer from hay fever, according to the Canadian Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Foundation. But do you really know all there is to know about allergies? Here are five things that may be new to you.

1. You can grow into—or grow out of—allergies
Just because you had allergies as a child doesn’t mean you’ll still have them as an adult—and the opposite is true, too, which means many adults suffering from allergies don’t realize that’s what’s causing their symptoms. "A lot of people don’t know that they have allergy symptoms," says Dr. Paul Keith, an allergist at McMaster University, adding that they may think their symptoms indicate nothing more than a cold.

2. Over-the-counter remedies really can help—but ask your doctor or pharmacist
Antihistamines are a popular choice for treating allergy symptoms, and for good reason—they’re as easy to use as popping a pill. Just make sure to choose the right formula for you—just because a particular brand works for a friend or family member doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose an antihistamine—they may even have samples you can try.

3. Decongestants aren’t a long-term solution
Nothing clears up nasal congestion like a decongestant, which is why they’ve been added to many OTC allergy medications. But it’s best to save them for the worst days, says Dr. Keith, as "we don’t recommend taking decongestants over a long period of time." Make sure to read labels carefully before buying allergy medication.

4. There’s more to allergy treatment than pills
We’re a culture that prefers pills, and who can blame us—they’re a simple-to-use treatment option for many conditions. But Dr. Keith recommends thinking outside the pill box when it comes to treating allergies and considering other options such as nasal sprays, which he says treat all allergy symptoms, not just those located in the nasal pathways. "Nasal sprays get directly to the problem," he says. "You’re trying to stop the inflammatory cascade that creates the symptoms."

5. You can get rid of allergies for good
One treatment option that’s becoming popular is immunotherapy, a way of desensitizing your body to the allergens that bother you. While it doesn’t work for everyone—"most people say 75 percent improvement in 75 percent of people," says Dr. Keith—it’s an option worth discussing with your doctor, who will probably refer you to an allergist for consultation.

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