What causes allergies?
The biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen – tiny grains released into the air by trees, grasses, and weeds to fertilise other plants. When pollen grains get into the nose of someone who’s allergic, their immune system goes into overdrive.
The body’s immune system mistakes the pollen for foreign invaders, and releases antibodies – substances that normally identify and attack bacteria, viruses, and other illness-causing organisms. The antibodies attack the allergens, which leads to the release of a chemical called histamine into the blood. Histamine is responsible for the early symptoms of allergies.
Other common, non-seasonal triggers for allergies include animal dander (tiny flakes of skin, fur or feathers), dust mites and mould.
What are the symptoms?
- A runny nose – clear, watery discharge
- A blocked nose
- Watery, red or puffy eyes
- Itchy nose, eyes and/or mouth
- Dark circles under your eyes
- A sore throat, tickly cough and husky voice
- Bad breath
It is common for spring allergy sufferers to assume their symptoms are caused by the common cold. Talk to your pharmacist if you are uncertain, especially if you have had a cold for longer than a week.
What can I do to treat my allergies?
Although there is no magical cure for spring allergies, there are a number of ways to combat them, from medication to household habits.
Before you consider other measures, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do is cut down on your exposure to allergens.
If pollen bothers you, keep your windows closed and avoid going outdoors when pollen levels are at their peak – between 6am and midday, on windy days and after thunderstorms. Change your clothes and shower after doing an activity that has exposed you to a lot of pollen, such as mowing the lawn. Consider investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your home.
Reducing your exposure to non-seasonal irritants, such as dust, pet dander and mould can help too.
To minimise house dust mites – keep your house well ventilated, avoid a build up of moist air inside the house, select floor coverings that don’t encourage dust (e.g. timber or tiles instead of carpet), apply dust mite covers to pillows and mattresses, regularly use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA air filter, and use damp dusting techniques when house cleaning. Soft toys are an inviting home for house dust mites, so wash them regularly in hot water, and avoid keeping toys on the bed.
If you are allergic to animal dander, keep your pets outdoors, or at least out of your bedroom and living spaces. Bathing pets regularly may help minimise the spread of dander.
The key to controlling mould is to reduce the humidity in your indoor environment – so fix any leaks, clear any overflowing gutters, remove indoor pot plants, use extractor fans and natural ventilation. A de-humidifier may also be useful. Visible mould or mildew should be removed from your home by cleaning with diluted bleach to kill the mould spores.
There are a range of effective medicines available from your local Direct Chemist Outlet pharmacy to treat your allergy symptoms, including:
- Antihistamines reduce sneezing and itching, and dry up runny nose and watery eyes by blocking the action of histamine in the body. Can be used for prevention or relief.
- Decongestants open up the nasal passageways to relieve congestion and swelling (for short term use only < 5 days) – available in tablets or a nasal spray.
- Antihistamine/decongestants combine the effects of both drugs.
- Steroid nasal sprays reduce inflammation and prevent allergies when used regularly
- Other nasal sprays containing:
- Ipratropium bromide to stop a severely runny nose
- Sodium cromoglycate to help prevent hay fever by stopping the release of histamine before it can trigger allergy symptoms
- Eye drops containing:
- Antihistamines to relieve itchy, watery eyes.
- Decongestants to clear red eyes.
- A combination of an antihistamine and a decongestant
- Anti-inflammatories to relieve itching and inflammation, and prevent subsequent symptoms.
In people who suffer from chronic allergies, with symptoms that are still troublesome despite the use of allergen avoidance and suitable medicines, an allergy specialist may prescribe immunotherapy.
During this treatment, you receive repeated injections to expose your body to gradually increasing doses of the allergen until you become desensitised, or tolerant to it. Although they don’t work for everyone, if you do respond, allergy shots can reduce or even eliminate your symptoms for years.
Complications of allergies – sinusitis and sinus infections
Allergies left un-treated frequently result in sinusitis (inflammed sinuses) or a sinus infection. Symptoms may include:
- A blocked nose
- Thick, green or yellow coloured mucus from the nose or down the back of the throat
- Facial pain or pressure, that is worse with leaning forward
- Toothache in the upper jaw
- Loss of senses of smell and/or taste
- Bad breath/bad taste in the mouth
- Tiredness or general ‘unwell’ feeling
- High temperature or fevers
Around half of all sinusitis cases will resolve without antibiotics in around a week. To manage your symptoms in the meantime, the following over-the-counter treatments are available:
- Steam inhalation – using a bowl of hot water with a few drops of eucalyptus oil or a commercial oil blend of steam inhalant and a towel over your head.
- Saline irrigation – available as a spray or rinse to ‘flush’ mucus and bacteria out of the nose and sinus cavities.
- Hot compresses against the face – such as a heat pack or heated face washer.
- Pain relief medications* – such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
- Decongestant medications* – but use only as directed, as decongestant nose sprays can make the problem worse if used for too long because they cause more swelling
- Nasal steroid sprays* – used to control allergies, thus preventing a major cause of sinusitis.
However, if your sinusitis symptoms last longer than a week, you should visit your doctor.
Ask at your local Direct Chemist Outlet pharmacy for advice on the best treatment to help manage your allergy or sinus symptoms.
* Some medications are not suitable for everyone – ask your pharmacist for advice specific to you.
DISCLAIMER: This material contains general information about medical conditions and treatments and is intended for educational purposes only. It does not constitute medical or professional advice, nor should it be used for the purposes of diagnosing or treating any illness. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your local pharmacist or health care provider to obtain professional advice relevant to your specific circumstances.