The best remedies for seasonal allergies
This fall, try these remedies for allergy-related sniffling and sneezing
Treating seasonal allergies
If you're one of the 30 percent of Canadians who suffer from allergic rhinitis-the medical term for the runny nose, congestion, sneezing and itchy eyes caused by exposure to airborne allergens-look out. "In much of Canada, the peak for fall allergies is the third week of September, but symptoms can persist into December," says Dr. Paul Keith, an allergist and associate professor in the department of medicine at McMaster University. Blame it on the weed pollens (mostly ragweed) and mould spores (in soil, plants and rotting vegetation) whose proteins your body mistakes for invaders. The immune system overreacts by producing antibodies, which travel to cells that release histamine and other chemicals, causing the reaction.
You can develop allergic rhinitis at any age, although childhood or early adulthood is most common (symptoms usually diminish with age). Women are slightly more susceptible than men, as are those with a history of atopic dermatitis or eczema. "The tendency to be allergic is inherited, but there are other factors including vitamin D deficiencies, obesity, and exposure to tobacco smoke and dust," says Keith. To help prevent a reaction, get enough vitamin D, avoid smoking, use pillows and mattress covers to limit contact with dust mites, and keep car and bedroom windows closed to limit contact with pollens and mould spores. If you wear contact lenses, consider switching to daily disposables, as allergens can build up on the lens surface over time.
When seasonal allergies are left untreated, it's not just your quality of life that suffers. "The more persistent and severe your allergic rhinitis is, the more likely you are to develop asthma," says Keith. See a doctor ?if you have persistent symptoms that are interrupting your sleep, if you already have asthma or if over-the-counter treatments aren't working after one week of use. Otherwise, you might want to consider the following remedies.
Examples: Allegra-D; Aerius Allergy 24-Hour Non-Drowsy Tablets; Benadryl Allergy Liqui-Gels; Claritin Non-Drowsy 24-Hour Allergy Tablets; Equate Allergy & Sinus Relief; Reactine Allergy Non-Drowsy Caplets; Tylenol Allergy Extra Strength
How they work
"Oral antihistamines block the chemical receptors in our bodies that react to histamines," explains Lisa McGeachy, pharmacy manager for Walmart in Saint John, N.B. "They don't cure the allergies, they just control the symptoms [such as a runny nose and itching]." Diphenhydramine, found in Benadryl and Equate, is what she calls a "first-generation" ingredient-it works quickly but requires frequent dosing and can cause drowsiness. Newer (or "second-generation") ingredients, such as fexofenadine (in Allegra-D), desloratadine (in Aerius), loratadine (in Claritin), cetirizine (in Reactine) and chlorpheniramine maleate (in Tylenol), provide longer-lasting relief with fewer side effects.
Need to know
Follow package directions and take daily for the duration of allergy season, says McGeachy. Check with your doctor first if you have an underlying medical condition, are pregnant or nursing, or are taking other medications. Avoid alcohol, driving or using machinery when taking products containing diphenhydramine, which can cause daytime sleepiness.
Examples: Claritin Nasal Pump; Dristan Nasal Spray Original Formula; Otrivin Cold & Allergy; Rhinaris-CS Anti-Allergic Nasal Mist
How they work
"When allergens enter the nasal cavities, they cause blood vessels to expand," says McGeachy. "Nasal decongestants help shrink them." Ingredients such as oxymetazoline (in Claritin and Dristan) and xylometazoline (in Otrivin) help open nasal passages. Sodium cromoglycate, the ingredient in Rhinaris-CS, is not a decongestant but a mast cell stabilizer; it prevents histamine from being released when the mast cells (white blood cells that are part of the immune system) encounter allergens.
Need to know
Follow package directions and ask the pharmacist how to properly take these medications. The duration of symptom relief can range from three to 12 hours. "I don't recommend taking nasal decongestants for longer than three to five days because you can become dependent," says Keith. McGeachy suggests using them ?at the onset of symptoms, since it may take several days for the medication to have an effect. Check with your doctor before starting any of these medications if you have a medical condition (especially high blood pressure) or are pregnant or nursing.
Examples: Visine Allergy Advance Eye Drops with Antihistamine; Albalon Eye Drops Liquifilm Decongestant; Cromolyn Anti-Allergic Eye Drops
How they work
Combined antihistamine and decongestant eye drops (including Visine [pheniramine maleate] and Albalon [naphazoline hydrochloride]) work the same way as oral antihistamines and nasal decongestants, except they're applied on the eyes, says McGeachy. "They provide fast relief." Eye drops that contain sodium cromoglycate take longer to provide relief if used after a reaction occurs.
Need to know
Follow package directions; most drops soothe symptoms for three to six hours. "Because your eyes are constantly flushing with tears, the drops get washed away quickly," says McGeachy. "They're best used as a symptom reliever until your oral antihistamine kicks in." Check with your pharmacist if you have an eye ?condition such as glaucoma. Avoiding contact lenses while experiencing eye allergy symptoms or using topical eye drops can help reduce irritation.
Combat symptoms the natural way with these suggestions from David Wang, a Vancouver-based naturopathic doctor and past president of the B.C. Naturopathic Association.
Saline mists (such as Simply Saline Allergy & Sinus Relief) or rinses (such as SinuCleanse Squeeze Nasal Wash Kit) can safely clear irritating particles from nasal and sinus passages. Make sure the solution and container are sterile.
Natural vitamin C
In a formula with bioflavonoids (such as Sisu Ester-C Supreme Powder), ?it boosts the immune system and has a natural antihistamine effect. Take 1,000 mg daily.
Wang recommends 1,000-1,500 mg daily of this natural antihistamine.
Natural vitamin B
To help prevent symptoms, take 50 mg daily of a food-based vitamin B complex about two weeks before allergy season starts.
Euphrasia 6C or 12C (found in Boiron Sabalia) can soothe burning, watery eyes. A. Vogel Pollinosan Hay Fever may be help-?ful for overall symptom relief.