Hay fever

You may have heard the term "hay fever," but seasonal allergies, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, are triggered by several different types of pollen, but not by hay. When trees and grasses begin growing in the spring and early summer, they release light, powdery pollen that floats in the wind. If you're allergic to this pollen, it can result in sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, a runny nose, and itchy and watery eyes. For some people with asthma, pollen can also trigger an asthma attack.

Allergy triggers, or allergens, vary depending on the time of year. In late summer and early fall, weed pollen (especially from ragweed) and fungal spores are the main culprits. In the early spring, tree pollen is the usual cause, and in late spring and summer it's grass pollen that's the problem. As well, the specific allergens in the environment will vary with the geographical area.

So if you're an allergy sufferer, how can you enjoy the outdoors without experiencing unpleasant symptoms? Here are a few tips:

  • Keep windows closed so pollen can't drift in. Air conditioning will keep you more comfortable in hot, humid weather. But don't forget that air conditioners also create the best conditions (damp and dark) for mould to grow in your home. Do some spring cleaning, and do it regularly.
  • If possible, stay inside when pollen counts are high (watch for these in weather reports) and on windy days when pollen and spores can get blown around. Avoid being outdoors in the early morning hours (between 5 am and 10 am), when pollen counts are usually highest.
  • If you've been outside all day, remove all your clothing and put it aside to be laundered, and take a shower after coming home. This will prevent you from taking all that pollen to bed with you.
  • Don't hang your laundry outside to dry – it can trap pollen and mould, bringing them inside. Use your dryer instead.

If these measures don't work, talk to your health care provider about what you can do if you're suffering from allergies. There are eye drops, nasal sprays, oral antihistamines and anti-allergy medications, sinus rinses, and even allergy shots that can be helpful in treating your specific allergy. Many treatments are available without a prescription, but others will need a prescription from your doctor. If you have asthma and have seasonal allergies, monitor your asthma closely and follow the action plan your doctor gives you.

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