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Allergies can trigger various health issues. Know the signs

Joanne Richard
Special to The Weather Network

Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 7:00 AM - Finally spring is in the air! If that thought brings tears to your eyes, you’re not alone. 

While some of us happily welcome the rising temperatures and green grass, spring allergy sufferers are getting all weepy eyed - and sneezy and wheezy too. Add to the runny nose, puffy face and dark circles under the eyes.

It’s not pretty! Actually you may find yourself with a case of the allergy uglies. Allergy sufferers fear the unattractive, misery-inducing symptoms that descend as pollen, mould and other allergens make their dreaded debut. Actually, every year we hear that it’s going to be the worst allergy season ever and judging by the sounds of spring – sneezing, sniffling and snorting – this one is shaping to be one big headache. What is certain is that with climate change and warmer temperatures, allergy season seems to be arriving earlier every year, staying longer and becoming more challenging. 

A study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports that pollen counts slowly rise annually and are expected to double by the year 2040. Not good news for the estimated 25 per cent of Canadians that have an allergy with symptoms of one kind or another - it’s nothing to sneeze at. 

The nose knows: Allergies can greatly impact quality of life. According to allergist Dr. Christine McCusker of the McGill University Health Centre: "Allergies can run the gamut from a few sniffles to severe headaches sinusitis, sleep apnea and severe sinusitis with loss of work productivity, days lost from work/school and poor sense of well-being in patients.” 

Along with the sniffles and itches, allergy suffers are prone to headaches, exercise intolerance and sinus infections, McCusker says. 

"You can also develop anosmia (loss of smell) and with it a loss of taste. There may also be poor sleep, adding fatigue to the list of symptoms."

Allergies can exacerbate asthma and lead to sinus infections, and greatly affect your quality of life. Up to 40 per cent of people with seasonal allergies will develop asthma in their lifetimes and asthma may result in significant limitations in daily activities and can be fatal, adds McCusker. 

Melissa Carver can vouch for the misery. 

"Spring allergies make me feel and look wretched – my face hurts and so does my head. I want to rip out my eyes and throat they’re so itchy," says the 38-year-old Mississauga resident. 

Exhaustion and brain fog are her constant companions: “I walk around at work like a zombie for at least two months and even more – it’s all so draining."

Well, don’t hold your breath a cure is going to be found anytime soon. Preparedness is key. 

"Spring allergies are the ones that take most people by surprise. They come on quickly as the weather warms, and people are returning to outdoor life surrounded by their allergic triggers," says Dr. Susan Waserman, professor of medicine, division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at McMaster University.

"People are often unprepared, and will not treat until they are already symptomatic. The types and amount of pollen exposure will depend on where you live, and weather conditions such as temperature and moisture," continues Waserman, adding that other symptoms include hives, eczema and sinusitis.

So what’s an allergy sufferer to do? Start early with over-the-counter antihistamines. 

“Nasal steroids are the main medication for this condition, although most nasal steroids need a prescription, there are a couple that do not in Canada currently,” Wasernab says, adding nasal salines may be helpful too.

Also: follow the pollen counts. 

“Though we advise people to limit activity at times of high pollen counts, this is impractical for most. Keep in mind counts are highest on warm, sunny, dry days and lower after rain,” adds Waserman, who says to keep windows at home and car closed and use AC to keep pollen out.

If you have problematic symptoms that cannot be controlled with easy measures, visit your doctor and see and allergist, advises Waserman. 

“An allergist can identify your specific triggers through testing, develop an action plan for allergy season with you, and recommend treatment which is best for you.” 

Allergy injections or sublingual tablets for grass and ragweed pollen allergy are treatment options for problematic symptoms.

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