It’s that time of year again—when itchy eyes and a runny nose remind hundreds of thousands of allergy sufferers that spring is in the air and the pollen count rising. The proper name for these uncomfortable symptoms is seasonal allergic rhinitis, but they are more commonly referred to as “hay fever.”
In BC and the prairie provinces, allergy season begins in late February and March with the release of tree pollen. In April, it is joined by grass pollens. Manitobans will also experience the misery of ragweed, which joins the list of allergens in late July.
In 2013, the allergy season began a little earlier than usual, likely due to the warm winter. Whether it arrives early this year remains to be seen, but some allergy experts believe that global warming is playing a role in lengthening the season. Many plants are producing three to five times more pollen than usual.
For people with tree allergies, certain tree species should be avoided. These include cedar, ash, alder, birch, box-elder, oak, elm, maple, mulberry, and walnut. These trees produce copious quantities of pollen because they rely on wind currents to disperse it and much never reaches its intended destination.
In June and July, pollens from grasses take over from tree pollens. Grasses most likely to cause allergic reactions include Kentucky bluegrass, Bermuda, Johnson, timothy, fescue,
orchard and sweet vernal. The lower pollen counts associated with grasses generally lead to less severe symptoms than with tree pollens or ragweed. However, the pollination period for grasses lasts longer.
It is important to know the pollen and mould seasons because medications such as antihistamines are most effective if you start taking them as soon as you begin to feel symptoms.
A visit to your family doctor or allergy specialist will help you determine what your allergy triggers are, so that you can limit your exposure to them. Although it is impossible to completely avoid springtime allergens, you can minimize or control your symptoms by reducing your exposure to the pollens. This is achieved by:
- Knowing your triggers and avoiding them. Remember that grass pollinates between 6 am and 10 am, weeds pollinate at sunrise and sunset, and that windy days will have higher pollen levels.
- Closing doors and windows during pollen season and using air conditioning to cool your home. (Be sure to change a/c filters as frequently as suggested by the manufacturer.)
- Staying indoors on dry, windy days when pollen counts are high. (Counts are usually provided on radio, television and in the daily newspapers.)
- Using a HEPA filter air purifier device in your bedroom. Air purifiers remove airborne pollen, harmful bacteria, smoke, dust and odours.